Is technology making people less intelligent?

Over time, as technologies advance to automate how people usually work, many believe it has led the generation to use their minds less and smartphones more.

The internet and mobile devices are great communication tools that, for example, make it possible to bring knowledge and education to practically everyone. The usefulness of technology during the pandemic has been more than demonstrated. However, it is not all positive. Technology is also transforming the way people interact and learn, and it seems that humans are becoming less intelligent.

“The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” became a bestseller when it was published in 2010. In his book, Nicholas Carr argues that hyperlinks do not allow people to concentrate and he has recently transferred his theory to cell phones, which, he says, weaken our way of thinking even when they are turned off. “Unfortunately, my predictions about the internet have come true and they are even worse than I expected,” Carr said in an interview with BBC.

The American writer has spoken on several occasions about the detrimental effects that the internet has on people’s ability to concentrate, memorize, and process information. He is now surprised by the changes that technology has brought to the way humans think and read.

Sadly, the study he published supports what he predicted. The opposing technology’s effects on humans’ mental capacity are even more intense and greater than what he expected.

Technology degrades individual intelligence but increases collective intelligence:

Smartphones are one of the great inventions in the era of the latest technologies. Since the first models were marketed in 2007, smartphones have changed people’s lives. Every day, billions of human beings use their phones numerous times throughout the day. The question, therefore, arises as to how much these devices have transformed people’s lives, and in what way. According to several studies, our cell phones have unfortunately made us dumber than we already were.

According to economist Dan Nixon, American workers spend an average of more than an hour a day on social media and check their smartphones nearly 150 times a day. We are therefore distracted more than 50% of the time during a working day which affects our productivity.

The decline in overall productivity recorded over the past 10 years should therefore be correlated with the rise of social media use. So far, there is no evidence that the economy is impacted by the existence of smartphones.

Smartphones and tablets occupy people’s attention as soon as they see the devices. It is not a coincidence. As entrepreneur Sean Parker explained in a recent interview, social networks and smartphones are designed from the start to be as addictive as possible and to consume our attention as much as possible.

In addition, by delegating simple tasks to our technological devices, we gradually lose our natural abilities. Thus, like many technologies, smartphones may make us less intelligent individually but strengthen collective intelligence. Humans are less good at counting, writing, or even orienting themselves (due to the rise of GPS on mobile), but humanity as a whole is taking advantage of technology to evolve more quickly. Thus, in the eyes of some specialists, smartphones free us but encourage the reduction of our skills.

However, not everything is negative. Technology is making us both dumber and smarter. Indeed, technological tools help us to easily perform simple tasks, such as additions or subtractions. No one needs to practice mental arithmetic anymore thanks to the appearance of the smartphone.

Social media has made everything easier. It has now become possible to learn a language without going anywhere. There are many websites that make it possible. For example, Memrise. There are countless streaming platforms like Netflix or Hulu where one can watch their favorite tv-shows. Now it is even possible to find people’s contacts in a matter of seconds on Leadar.

Likewise, autocorrection allows us to type text faster without worrying about misspellings. Through the mobile internet, smartphones also allow us to be permanently connected.

If used correctly, technology’s advantages outweigh all the disadvantages. We just need to learn how to use it without harming ourselves.

The most worrying changes:

The reason behind the worrying transformation is the way we behave and think. The human brain adapts to everything quickly. Our minds can become very good at thinking if we practice a lot, but if not, we make them start to lose that ability.

The problem is that, in general terms, the internet provides people with information in a way that weakens the ability to pay attention. This is because when using the devices, we obtain an enormous amount of information, but it reaches us in a very fragmented way through sounds, photos, videos, and texts, all of which compete with each other. To this, we must add the many interruptions of alerts and notifications.

“We have learned to be constantly stimulated to gather bits of information all the time, but we don’t feel stimulated to slow down, to concentrate, to be focused, to pay attention,” said Nicholas Carr.

That is why, in his opinion, skills such as contemplation, reflection, introspection, and even deep breathing are being lost because they require us to pay attention, to eliminate distractions and interruptions.

He added that while tools like Google provide a lot of information that helps people investigate more quickly, in the long run, it breaks the ability to think deeply.

Thankfully, there is hope. Despite the negative part that Carr identifies for the constant use of the internet, mobile devices, and the latest technologies, he also points out that, fortunately, users are increasingly aware of the risks.

Summing up, it is fair to say that everything is good in moderation. Technology is a great gift to humanity. But it is only a gift if used properly. We now have phones to call instead of spending a lot of hours on social media. We have the internet to access information that would be hard to find otherwise. It is important to use wisely what is given to us.