Tech is (not) making us stupid.


How many phone numbers can you recall of the top of your head? Do you even know your significant other’s phone number? If you are under 40 the answer is properly no.

Modern technology has removed the need for us to remember information of that type. Why remember a phone number when our phones will. Why memorize facts when we carry access to the internet 24/7 now. The human brain may be losing the ability to remember these kinds of information but it is making up for it in a big way. Studies have shown that the human brain may be using less space for memory but is using that space for other things like processing. We have faster brains because we are not using up space to remember things. This means that our capabilities and intelligence are increasing while we seemingly lose memory.

What’s actually happening is what’s called the flynn affect which suggests that we are smarter than ever before. To understand this phenomena I need to explain the two types of intelligence understood by these theorists, Fluid and Crystalized. Fluid intelligence is the ability to process information. In a computer it would be the RAM. Crystalized intelligence is the stored information in the brain aka memory. This is comparable to the computer’s hard drive. Both serve specific functions and without one the other is pretty useless. However the flynn affect the term used to describe observed trends that since about 1940 people’s fluid intelligence has been constantly increasing. However these same studies actually do not show any change in crystalized intelligence. In other words humanity has updated it’s RAM but is still running an old hard drive. What we are seeing is not loss of memory but the result of us processing more information than we can store faster than we can store it. So we offload it. Into our phones, our computers, and eachother and we only keep what is important to function day to day. Phones are humanity’s flash drive.

We also make use of the world around us to get info we don’t have much like computer’s use the internet. With google instantly available we can constantly find new information on any topic. The real trick is figuring out which info is useful and which isn’t.

Off loading information isn’t new either. In fact humans have been doing a form of this for many, many years. Writing was the earliest and most used form of off loading information before modern technology came onto the scene. And with the invention of the printing press access to information grew even more. The only difference between this and phones is that a phone can be carried with you and store more data than a book.

Crystalized intelligence(memory) has also been shown to be unreliable. Think about your most charitable memory. You think that you know all the facts but have you considered that the memory might have changed? Countless studies have shown that our brains remember in chunks and fill in the gaps in memory. Meaning that anything you remember is likely inaccurate to some degree. This is the advantage of technology is that for it to provide false information it has to be deliberately tampered with. Meaning that saving dates in your phone is way smarter than trying to remember on your own. That’s why in court video evidence is more valuable than eyewitness testimony.

Now with computers we make digital memories because that is the closest thing to perfect as we can get. for now. An example of doing this before computers would be home movies. I remember watching a lot of them when I was growing up of me trying to play guitar or just day to day interactions with my sister and family.

Things are not really that different we just use different and improved things now then we did back then.

It shows that we are not getting dumber because of technology but are actually getting smarter. According to psychology today a child that would be normal in the 1950’s would be handicaped by today’s standards because of difference in fluid intelligence. 

Humans now are able to multi-task better and faster. Technology is a big part of us becoming smarter because we now have so much information at the tips of our finger tips. This information is also fast and doesn’t cause us to use much effort in understanding or trying to remember it because it will always be there.

This raises questions on if we should start testing students differently then since our brains are different. We test students today based off of memory but maybe we should be testing based on how to get the information they need to solve the problem.

For more information check out this podcast where Amanda, Shelby and I talk about what all of this means.



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