There’s been a theme to my reading this week: technology is neither all good nor all bad. In the midst of all the amazing discoveries with their potential to increase human knowledge, understanding and community, there are negative consequences that we must take into consideration.
It began with an article in Forbes about Technologies That Hurt Us. The article draws on the work of David Friedman whose book Future Imperfect: Technology And Freedom In An Uncertain World discusses the potential dangers of a variety of technologies including biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence. The ultimate danger, according to Friedman, is human extinction. Quite an unintended consequence, isn’t it? The article also focused on more mundane negative physical consequences of technology such as the kid who spends the summer playing video games and then heads to the first day of football practice only to get hurt. Or, the Wii tennis players who don’t get the breaks found in the “real” game so end up getting a much more difficult workout. The recommendation from orthopedic surgeons is simple: warm up before you fire up the Wii and, if more sedentary video games are your style, be sure to move around now and then. As for Friedman and his dire warnings, he says that the answer is not to stop technology:
The benefits of owning a smarter computer than the next guy, for example, are just too great. “This train doesn’t have brakes, and from my perspective at least, the main thing to do is not to say, ‘Should we encourage it, or should we stop it?’ ” Friedman says. Instead Friedman suggests two questions: “Where can we guess this technology will lead, and if we get there, what should we do?”
I was reminded of this article when I read Wes Fryer’s post about the end of his game of Travian. He described an alliance member who spent so much time playing the game that it took a negative toll on his health. In the end, he didn’t win but he did get a mention in the letter. I guess only he can decide if it was worth it.
Then, there’s the whole question of whether the Internet is making us dumb. Nicholas Carr’s lengthy article in The Atlantic described his concerns about how the Internet was changing his reading habits. It’s something that Will Richardson has also discussed in response to Carr’s article. Carr recognizes the grey areas in his argument as he describes the skeptics who accompanied every major technological development: Socrates worried about the effect of writing on memory and humanists worried that the printing press would lead to laziness and revolution. Yet, these technologies have had amazingly positive influences on human knowledge and learning. In the end, though, Carr comes down on the side of deep reading. He writes, “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.” Yet, in a recent New York Times article, Damon Darlin defends the use of Google as a technology that actually frees our mind. He writes, “Over the course of human history, writing, printing, computing and Googling have only made it easier to think and communicate.” He comes down on the side of the optimists who believe in human improvement.
I am reminded once again that we are living in a grey area, trying to find a balance between the positive and negative effects of the technology that surrounds us. And, as educators, we need to have these conversations with out students.
Since this post is probably already too long for most of you, I’ll write about my own reading experiences later but here’s a teaser: my own reading still involves books, although they are mostly fiction, and I find that I can still do lengthy reading as long as I can have a pencil, either analog or digital, in my hand.