THE LEARNING CURVE
BY Saashya Rodrigo
The pros and cons of technology is a debate that has persisted for decades. As much as the debate has persisted across generations, the power of this age-old argument has worn out because it’s universally grey.
As we progress full speed ahead into an increasingly technologically driven society, the setbacks of tech dependence are increasingly prevalent among the older generation as much as its benefits shine among the younger generation. That’s why the dull flame of this discourse has persisted across generations.
There’s plenty of evidence supporting the benefits of technology. It has achieved the goal of making life easier and efficiency is at its peak in the 21st century. Tasks can be completed much faster and at a greater scale than ever before.
Technology has also brought us energy efficiency where a task that was once extremely tiresome – like harvesting crops – has been greatly simplified and automated, making it a better fit to cater to the supply and demand of an exponentially growing population. Besides conserving our own energy, technology has also led to energy efficiency from an environmental standpoint through for example, the use of solar panels over fossil fuels.
However, the darker side of technology reveals that we could be relying on these advancements at the cost of our own survival as a species.
For instance, ‘digital amnesia’ is a term coined in recent years. It refers to the reliance we place on digital devices to store information, which we might otherwise have used our own memory for. For example, phone numbers, doctor’s appointments and birthdays are often stored in a device rather than in our own memory.
It isn’t that we aren’t capable of remembering this type of factual information. In fact, it’s a skill that we once used so often and took for granted. Digital efficiency has simply trumped our perception of our own mental efficiency. We’re reminded of our digital dependence only on the rare occasion that a device fails us. In a sense, our devices have become an extension of our own memory and thought process.
Similarly, society is increasingly treating internet search engines as a more efficient – and in many cases, a reliable – source of information… over and above our own ability to mentally access and retrieve information from our existing memory.
A large-scale study quoted by BBC News correspondent Sean Coughlan explored the memory habits of 6,000 participants from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Over a third of them instinctively used a device to look up information instead of using any other resource including their own memory.
Cognitive scientists such as Dr. Maria Wimber, Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham, warn that this instinctive practice of using devices to look up information hinders the development of neuron connections, thereby weakening our long-term memory.
Along with the rapid speed at which technology has evolved, there comes a careless extraction of its benefits too. The swiftness with which machines such as mobile phones and laptops advance to the next model is greater than what our minds are able to fully comprehend. We are unable to evaluate the efficiency of these devices in a way that’s beneficial to our personal growth.
But our reliance on search engines and other digital advancements need not be an indicator of the end times. Instead of drowning in the instantaneousness of technological advancements, it might be wise to slow down and purposefully explore how they can truly contribute towards the progress of our species.
For example, as much as search engines have proven to be a speedy and boundless wealth of information, in order to optimise its true potential it’s suggested that we take a moment to retain the information we’ve recently looked up.
In other words, instead of taking for granted the instant access we have to a search engine, treat it as a book borrowed from a library. Mindful consumption of technological advancements is a crucial component of our progress and survival as a species.