It's time we got smart about the proliferation of personal gadgets referred to as "smart." Let’s consider the possibility that these mobile smart devices – phones, tablets, watches, etc – are actually making us dumber.
I realize this argument is a tough sell. Most of us, long ago, willingly succumbed to the seduction of smart gadgets. We’re quite comfortable with our smart phones by now, and frankly we’ve grown tone deaf to the cries of despair coming from the likes of me and thrown up our rigid defenses composed of forty characters or fewer. Could it be that we’ve fallen under the “smart spell” and are slowly growing brain dead? Before you yawn and roll your eyes, allow me a few practical examples to illustrate my point.
As an English teacher, I’ve taken on the formidable task of training society’s future communicators. I’ve made a commitment to seeing students put together complete sentences, and from there, coherent paragraphs and beyond to sustained, coherent arguments of five hundred words or more. This is not an unreasonable goal, but for someone confronting a class whose normal mode of communication is fragments in texts or monosyllabic voice messages, this is a challenge. Going from “In society it difficult to work job @ place u lik” to “It’s becoming more difficult to work at a job you like in our society” is not a straightforward task.
Also, the pressures to cheat can be unbearable for students who pin their future hopes on academic achievement. Smart phones have quickly become the preferred vehicle of plagiarism. I don’t suspect Steve Jobs ever imagined he’d created the ultimate cheating devices. For quizzes and exams, these palm held gadgets are easily concealed. In just one case, during an exam two of my students had neatly embedded smart phones in pencil cases, which gave them quick access with a few thumb clicks to the internet and vocabulary definitions and essay ideas. They felt they had no other recourse but to let smart tech think for them. My strong guess is this wasn’t their first time. Unfortunately, their addiction only made them dumber, both intellectually and ethically, and they failed the course for their little misdeed. You’ll argue, cheaters are like weeds, we’ll always have them. But I can’t remember when cheating was easier or more common.
Not only do gadgets like smart phones make us worse users of language, but they are playing a big part in lowering our social and emotional intelligence. I’m not the first to suggest this by any means. Research bears this out. I recently witnessed a scene in the university halls that simply depressed me. A male student, obviously a bit nervous and trying to muster the courage and waiting for the right moment, finally approached a girl with her head buried in her smart phone and tapped her on the shoulder. “Hi, how’s it going,” he said, offering his best smile. No response. The girl was too busy checking her messages to even acknowledge him. Emboldened by his first step, our brave knight tried again. “Hi Stephanie.” Stephanie uttered a faint “hi” while continuing to work her thumbs with abandoned agility. She still hadn’t even bothered to take in who was standing in front of her. The boy patiently waited for her to finish, but after it became apparent Stephanie would be awhile, he simply walked away. I hurt for both of them. Is smart technology turning us into social nimrods? (Check your i-phone for the second or third definition. Not helping? Hmm.)
Are we losing the ability to treat each other with respect, kindness, and common decency? I’m increasingly convinced that we are sacrificing our true humanity to smart gadget idols.
It seems, with the rise of smart technology, social disabilities are also on the rise. It’s hard to believe we’re gaining more sophisticated levels of communication, as the claim goes, if we can’t even pass the test of basic social etiquette. How can anyone develop any degree of social or emotional literacy when we are increasingly shunning face to face relationships? Without the reflection of others, we cease to develop in these areas. By surrendering real human interaction to more time spent on our smart devices, how will we ever acquire skills like empathy and conflict resolution, or real love of any holistic kind?
As much as we might attest to how much smarter and more functional we are because of this technology, the opposite is true. We are becoming enslaved in abusive relationships with smart gadgets, and we’re enabling them because we’ve convinced ourselves that we really do love them and can’t live without them.
I started writing these posts thinking of them as interruptions of grace in the ordinary and mundane events of life.