Sunday, September 8, 2013

New Technology Plus Memory and Other Losses

Last evening, just before bed, I was watching a group of people on television who were competing in teams to copy a detailed tea room setting.  They had a fairly long time to see how the room was set up, then were sent on another task for about fifteen minutes.  When they returned they had to physically set a tea room up exactly as the room they had seen: furniture, knick knacks, table settings, creating a fireplace fire where they themselves had to then boil the tea kettle, etc.

The exercise reminded me of the old game we used to play at camp and birthday parties where a tray covered in various items was brought out for us to look at and then after a 1 minute look and short distraction, we had to write down every item we could remember seeing on the tray.  This was just a bigger version with a few more things to remember. 

The people involved ranged in age from late teens to middle fifties.  I was quite surprised that the team with the highest number of older people not only correctly completed the task first, but that they did it so much more quickly and correctly than the team composed mostly of the youngest members of the group.  The younger team seemed completely confused right from the start of the task, couldn't seem to remember where even the larger pieces of furniture were to be placed, let alone the tea service and other small paraphernalia, couldn't seem to grasp the concept of working as a team.  

I have always associated young people with quick thinking, alert memories, organized thoughts that tend to outstrip their older friends and family.  However, something was very much different about this particular group of them.

Finally several of them admitted they had no idea how they were supposed to remember all those details when they were not allowed to take photos of the room with their ipads/cell phones to use as reminders.  I was completely shocked.  It appears these dear young folk have not had to train their own visualization skills to help them remember details.  Anything visual they want to remember is easily photographed and their brain cells have no reason to be exercised in visual memory retention.

Later on I watched a national newscast extolling the wonders of a new style of GPS system for hand held devices that works like a seeing eye dog, or a white cane, works for the visually impaired.  As people walk around the streets with their eyes on their ipads and cell phone screens, emailing, taking photos, Facebooking, tweeting and doing everything EXCEPT watching where they are going, the new system will inform them if they are about to walk into a lamp post, or into a car in the middle of the road, or another person, or any obstacle they may be too distracted to be aware of.

Am I the only person on the planet who is frightened by this sort of change in our lifestyles?  Are we training ourselves to become so stupid that we can't even walk down the street without needing our hand held technology to tell us if we are going to walk into something and hurt ourselves???  Do we need our hand held technology to tell us we have come to a street corner and if we step off the curb we are going to be hit by a vehicle?  Are we in such bondage to our ipads and cell phones that we can't stand on the curb and physically raise our eyes to see if it is safe or not to cross the road and have our own brains compute the answer for us?  Are we becoming incapable of lifting our heads up high enough to see lamp posts and oncoming pedestrians and have our brains tell us that if we don't move we are going to have an accident??

I was very disappointed when our schools traded in brain power for calculators for basic math skills, worried in fact.  At this point I have skipped way beyond "disappointed" and "worried" and headed straight for "terrified".  What are we doing to ourselves?  What are we doing to our future generations?

One of our North American hardware store chains has started a campaign to get our kids away from technology that isolates them socially and creates health problems from lack of exercise.  The theme of their campaign is to "bring back play".  I have to applaud them.  However I am absolutely stunned to realize how many children have to be taught HOW to play and how to relate to their peers through physical and mental activity, teamwork and the like.

Technology is a wonderful thing in this day and age...amazing in fact.  What we are doing with it in terms of radically changing our lifestyles is not so wonderful to me...amazing, yes, but not in a good way.  

I have, until last night at least, been kicking myself for being so slow to join the technological parade of hand held devices.  My cell phone is used for emergency purposes and to check in on the elderly relatives when I am travelling.  I have no ipods nor ipads nor wii's nor video game systems......only an aging computer with a nice flatscreen attached.  The car I drive has no GPS system, handy as those can be, and it doesn't now, nor will it ever, parallel park itself.   It doesn't speak to me as I drive....not about anything. It is blessedly silent so I can concentrate on driving! I have to figure out my own pathways, crank the steering wheel myself to accomplish driving and parking maneuvers, shift gears and clutch with my own 2 feet and hands.  When I want to remember how something looks it is up to my own memory to do its job as I don't have the technology to rely on having grainy photos to remind me of everything my eyes have seen on any given day.  I have to remember what people tell me when we talk because I don't stand in front of them with any sort of cell phone recording technology copying our conversation for future referral.  It is my entire mind and body I must exercise, not just my thumbs and forefingers.

When I was young I didn't understand all the old people yearning for "the good old days".  Maybe they saw, even way back then, what I as a young person couldn't see.  Perhaps they could see how some of the new ways were eradicating skillsets that would result in a whole new generation suffering due to diminishing abilities.

Nooooow I get it!  I suspect it is time for us all to be very afraid...of how we are diminishing ourselves mentally and physically and socially without realizing we are even doing so.

An old adage tells us "A place for everything and everything in its place."  When it comes to technology perhaps we could allow that old adage to get us thinking wisely about its use.


chris e. said...

Good post!
So young people can't remember things, no surprise to me. What was their defense? 'But we're the generation who can multi-task!!!'? Yeah, right.
Calculators came on the scene sometime between when my husband 'should have' finished high school and when he actually did. When he was being taught square roots--second time around--he asked the teacher to show him how to do one sans calculator. She refused! Why would anyone want to know how to do it the hard way when you could just push a few buttons? Hopefully the teacher herself has now been replaced with a Commodore 64 or something equally useful.
I'm with you. Technology has its place, I just wish more people would question its benefits before jumping in whole hog.

Susan said...

I love what technology can do and like you I am certainly not against it. I just find it terrifying that people have to have a pathfinder on their hand helds to prevent them from bumping into trees. I was sure that is what the good Lord gave us eyes for!