Thursday, March 21, 2013

Are we better off?

It’s a pretty awesome time to be alive, technology-wise. Medically, we can diagnose things at a much earlier stage than ever before, and operate with tiny incisions and amazing accuracy. Our cars perform millions of calculations per minute to ensure safe operation and max fuel efficiency. And 24 hours a day we have access to an unparalleled abundance of knowledge, history, multimedia entertainment, and breaking news, within 5 minutes of it occurring, anywhere on the globe - all at our fingertips. We rely on advanced technology now to correct our spelling, figure our tips in restaurants, avoid traffic, record TV shows based on our individual tastes, and tell us the closest place to get a good frozen yogurt… We have all of this technology working for us, but at what cost.

I was at the store not long ago stocking up on beer and vodka for an upcoming snowstorm. What… In an emergency, vodka can be used to help start a fire, or clean a wound. Let’s see you do that with bread and milk. Anyway, the total came to $34.53. I handed the young girl a $50 bill, and she proceeded to start tapping her extremely long nails on the flat screen register. After a few seconds of nothing happening, she shouted to the back of the store, “it’s doing it again”, and made her way to the other side of the counter to use a calculator. Now, most, if not all of you have already done this simple math in your head, as had I. But wait, it gets better… After a few bangs on the counter, it was apparent that the calculator wasn’t working either. As she made her way back over toward me to call for help, and apologized for taking so long, I said, “no problem… It’s going to be $15.47”. She looked at me, let out a sigh of relief like I just told her that her biopsy came back negative, and handed me my change. In retrospect, I should have said the change was $125.00… Now, is she just horrible at math? Lazy? Who knows, but we do see this more and more since cash registers and calculators started doing all of the work.

We can’t really blame it on schooling. Our kids learn most of the same things we did, but as with anything, if skills aren’t utilized, they are lost. There is little need for basic math day to day. Our phones have calculators, and Quicken balances our checkbooks. Most legible penmanship is a thing of the past because everything is typed, spellchecked, and printed. Technology gives us the ability to be incredibly efficient, but is causing us to be increasingly lazier. Who remembers encyclopedias? Everyone had a set… Britannica, Funk & Wagnall’s, World Book - 22 volumes of reference books your parents needed another piece of furniture to house. They were fun, no? Need info on Nixon? Check the index book and find it’s in volume 16. Go back to the bookcase, grab that book, find the section on Nixon -  halfway through you see ‘Watergate’… Need more info on Watergate? back to the index – Watergate: volume 21... On and on it went. To write a 5 page paper you’d need 4 encyclopedia books, plus an 85 pound dictionary, and a Roget’s thesaurus… Now, we can just Google it. To be clear – Hell yes I’m jealous!!! But, as with anything we hated as kids, I learned how to investigate, find answers, and solve problems. Another skill fallen by the wayside is map reading. Today, with GPS, there is just no reason for folks to learn how. So much for treasure hunting… Not only do Goonies never say ‘die’, they never once said, ‘Siri, where is One-eyed Willy’s ship’.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from a technology snob. I take advantage of it every day… I am in the IT field. - I’m listening to music on my IPhone now, I will be sharing the link to this blog on Facebook and Twitter, and later on I’ll take my turns on Words with Friends on my Kindle Fire. And, no – I don’t remember phone numbers anymore… I don’t have to, right? Technology in its many forms is great. I just worry that the basic skills that were needed not long ago to survive in this society, may not survive themselves. Hmm… laptop’s running a little sluggish, maybe it’s time for a new one.

If this keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push button finger. ~ Frank Lloyd Wright