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Thank You Very Much Mr. Roboto

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 As I sat in my literacy graduate class today, I doodled an Apple II with a human body, a Mac shirt, and wheels for feet. After all, it’s my belief that eventually, computers will take over people. Naturally, one’s first reaction is “Oh that’ll never happen. We have all the controls and we’re much more powerful than the computers we have in front of us. Besides, what’s this little thing going to do?” While that argument may be sound for most, I can’t agree. We’re giving much more power to computers than we’re really conscious of.

 For one, we’re enthralled with having computing devices that do all the thinking power for us. With the latest innovation of the iPhone, it’s become even sexier to give the responsibility of our whole lives to a handheld device. We’re enamored with the capabilities of our Sidekicks, Razrs, and Dell laptops that we take for granted the advantages we have by being computer literate. We like how they flip, flop, turn, and swivel and have no interest in how they’re made, and we “would die” if anything happened to our cell phone, and “couldn’t survive” without it, despite our ability to do so for a couple of millennia or so.

AndroidBecause of this increased pseudo-access across race and age groups, we have this idea that all the social problems we have will suddenly go away with the click of a mouse. We see pictures uploaded on these social networks and think that America as a country has surpassed the problems that afflict us everyday. For instance, I was asked about the digital divide in this country, and how there’s a margin of access along racial, socioeconomic, and age lines. All through the conversation, however, we kept straying away from the discussion of the social stratifications because we were wrapped in the aesthetic of computers. As relevant as the discussion about actual technology is, we can’t lose sight of the fact that technology can become a means of ostracizing rather than unifying people.

We’re using technology in our classrooms without proper understanding of how to use the technology to educate the future citizens of this world. In other words, we’d be better off going back to pencil and paper than giving kids laptops when all they’re going to do is hit Alt+Tab to alternate between writing notes and writing messages on MySpace and Bebo. I’m already against extensive use of calculators in my classroom, and last I checked Socrates and the ancient Egyptians did a pretty good job of teaching abstract methods without all these new gadgets. In the end, our future depends on whether our kids can think outside of the box, not in it, and I do mean that as a double entendre.

It’s ironic for me to write this because I’m using a fairly new method of tech communication to address this issue, I graduated with a degree in computer science, and I contact my kids through e-mail and a teacher MySpace page. However, this may be the very reason I’m here mulling over the future of the human race. Kids and adults have an easier time remembering URLs than multiplication of positive integers. They’re insanely attached to their devices and have conversations through their Bluetooth earpieces, but can’t write out what they think or are most passionate about. They can do their “research paper” in 5 seconds by looking at sites like Wikipedia and not have a clue as to what they were researching. They may even know how to play with Adobe Photoshop and make their profile pictures look kewt but if they’re asked who their favorite artist is, they’ll always reference “You know, that guy that did that painting …”

We’re also seeing great advancements in the field of face and speech recognition, artificial intelligence, and robotics, which only signals just how alike computers and people will start to become in many ways. At one point, every scientist has hoped to use their inventions for the evolution of the human race. Unfortunately, it’s always been used for our destruction. Maybe in time, we’ll actually use the computer we’ve had installed in us all along to reverse this process of dumbification.

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About Jose

  • duane

    Your bleak views, unfortunately, have a few rings of truth to them. I would be happy to see kids using pencil and paper instead of a calculator, crayons and watercolors instead of downloading graphics off the web (then pasting them into Powerpoint presentations), learning to play musical instruments rather than building their iPod libraries, searching the aisles of the school library instead of paraphrasing Wikipedia articles, etc. But then, I wonder, maybe we’re just old fogeys, and naturally presume that formal education was better conducted last century. All in all, though, I can’t help but to think that kids are becoming more “informed” and “savvy” at the expense of actual knowledge, know-how, and wisdom. Hard to say.

  • A Concerned Citizen


    I think the major difference between our generations is that the knowledge is more readily available — what took your generation time and effort to find or do, it takes mine just seconds with technological advancements. The only major problem I think that has brought has been a lack of appreciation of garnered knowledge.

    The only benefits that doing math by hand or searching library aisles brings is an appreciation of what it took to gain the knowledge. Besides that, those two things are a complete waste of time.

    My biggest problem with the educational system is that it’s overwhelming concern for facts prevents them from imparting any real knowledge.

  • duane

    Can’t really disagree with you too much, CC (#2). Lemme think about it some more. I might argue about the math. Maybe not.

    There is one thing I really appreciate about the new technology. In the 80s, when I was a student, I used to have to go to one of the campus libraries, hunt down journals, walk the journals to a copy machine (which was often in a different building), and make copies. A real pain, especially when the copiers broke down. These days I can just go online and copy pdf versions of articles onto my work computer. I would never have it any other way, now that I’m spoiled. I’ll admit, I don’t think this has any detrimental side effects on me. And it saves paper.

  • ok..a few things here

    the difference is that rather than needing to learn many things by rote, this generation must learn how to find pertinent data for what they need

    being able to analyze and synthesize the information is still required for understanding and furthering Knowledge

    as for this whole “computers will replace us”

    don’t think so…computers can’t “think”, merely crunch numbers and remember anything they have been given

    where i think it is going will be something like a cyber-cyborg

    where folks will utilize digital mechanisms for memory and calculation..but an educated mind , with critical thinking ability and training is still key

    your mileage may vary…


  • duane

    Yeah, gonzo. Analyze and synthesize. I was born to synthesize (c.f., Todd Rundgren).

    So, in theory, following CC’s post #2, the younger generation has not had to spend as much time hunting for information, and can use the freed up time to analyze and synthesize. Have they? Or do they simply have more “facts” stored in their heads. For some reason that I can’t really justify, I think the answer is “no” to both questions. I hope I’m wrong.

  • Thanks for all the comments, everyone. They’re really thought provoking.

    @ duane, I don’t consider myself an old fogie. I encourage the use of technology to access information and arrive at solutions to problems. I don’t want to stay too stuck in the past. To follow …

    @ CC, yes. That’s the whole point. Knowledge is what’s key, not the way we obtain it. We’re so quick to rush into learning about technology and experimenting, we often forget the effects they have on us. We’re not encouraging progress, but regress by not giving them the other side of the coin which is …

    @ gonzo, I agree that humans can analyze and synthesize, but we know that, if we continue to dumb down essentials, there’ll be no need for deep thought. Instead, we’ll let the computers do it for us. And what happens when humans don’t use higher order thinking? We fall into patterns … the basis for artificial intelligence, which means that computers can detect those patterns, find the flaws using an algorithm (designed by a human no less), and get rid of us eventually. The idea is not far off.

  • Jose – until and unless a computer can design and implement new algorithms, we have no fear of being replaced

    your mileage may vary


  • A Concerned Citizen

    Although I think The Matrix was a great movie, I also think it’s pretty far-fetched. . .

    but an educated mind , with critical thinking ability and training is still key

    Critical thinking is by far the most important, and least taught, part of education. That’s my biggest problem with the educational system — instead of teaching you to ask “why”, they teach you to ask “what” and leave it at that. Each subject you learn just becomes a notch on the belt and the actual importance of any of it is left in the dust.

    Education, in a way, has become akin to the fast food industry.