Stories from the news: the consequences of technology

When was the last time you ...

a) wrote a letter by hand;
b) used a street directory or other paper map; 
c) multiplied two large numbers in your head; 
d) memorised a phone number that wasn't your own.

Chances are it's been a while, and there's a simple reason: technology means we hardly ever need to. With nine in 10 Australians carrying a smartphone in their pocket, skills that society once considered essential have become redundant.

Prominent British neuroscientist Susan Greenfield, for instance, has long argued that technology is fundamentally altering our brains, and not always for the better. She worries about a world confined to two dimensions, where audiovisual entertainment delivered via screens becomes so prevalent that it leaves no time to develop other senses, and where our attention spans are so shattered by a torrent of information that we can no longer appreciate the beauty of a good story or enjoy a conversation. (source)

This is interesting and I wonder what affect it will have on our children who only know life with technology. They will probably never need to use a street directory or look up a word in a dictionary but how will this affect their thinking in the long term is perhaps unknown.

Neuroscientist Penelope McNulty says . . . "We know it's affecting people," she says. "For example, our memory is shorter and we remember smaller chunks of things. "Think of how many phone numbers you used to remember 20 years ago and how many you can remember now. We just don't need to any more, so we're changing the skills we have. We know how to find information much faster than we ever used to and we possibly have faster filters. "We all know a lot more information about a lot more things than we used to, because we don't have to remember some of those other things like times tables."

Gerard Dowe
I no longer remember phone numbers or birthdays as I once did, this information is stored on my smart phone and it reminds when when a birthday is due. That is all very well, however, what happens when my phone dies or the network doesn't work. All that information is trapped in my phone and I can't access it.  

I think its all about balance — whilst smart technology is great (and I am currently using it to communicate with you), we also need to use other forms of information so we don't loose this ability. We need to teach our children how to find things in books from the library, from talking to people and not just from Wikipedia (which can often be wrong) and even how to read maps.

If we want to use a recipe we need to demonstrate to our children that recipes can be found on the internet, in cookbooks and those that are passed down via word of mouth from older generations (and written in family cookbooks). It would a very sad day when we only use recipes from the internet and not gather up those from our elders. 

Handwriting analyst Ingrid Seger-Woznicki . . . "The lack of writing is reflective of our lack of clarity of communication," she says. "We don't see communication as an art as we used to. Writing by hand forces you to stop and think a bit, and it makes you more aware of how you affect others. Poor handwriting used to be seen as a lack of consideration. "When you write cursive you are wanting to connect with people's minds at a deeper level, and as a society we don't want to do that any more."

Teaching children to write letters by hand is important even if it is a dying art. Buying or making a birthday card, writing a personal message and posting it was once common place, now its a rare act — but one we all enjoy receiving. It will be a sad day when the only way we wish a person happy birthday is via email  — it is impersonal and lacks that depth of communication that a handwritten letter has. 

Technology has its place and I don't want to live with out it, but I don't want it to rule my life and remove the personal touch we all love but seem to want to avoid doing any more. We need to make wise choices in all things we do and that includes the use of technology. 

Happy is the man who finds wisdom,

And the man who gains understanding.

Proverbs 3:13


  1. Yes. For this reason, my children don't have their own technology equipment and I don't allow them to use mine (except on rare occasions). For this reason the printing on the spine of our dictionary is wearing off, the pages of our atlas and road directory are showing signs of wear and tear. Our reference and educational books are more often OFF the shelf rather than on them... Our entertainment is found more in books and games and hobbies than in computers and anything associated with them. We write letters and hand make birthday cards (not as regularly as I might like sometimes!).
    I don't want to see these things disappear. So we DO something about that!! ;)
    And I think technology, while it has good uses, is definitely making people more stupid. :(

    1. Its all about balance - unfortunately we have got it out of balance and we will suffer in the long term with problems with our memory. But I am pleased to see so many children when I visit my local library, so certainly in our area, children are still borrowing lots of books to read which is a good sign.

  2. This is insightful! I definitely benefit from technology and wouldn't want to live without what we have, but I do think using low-tech approaches is important, too.
    My husband and I are committed to teaching our children to use actually dictionaries (not just internet references), maps, cursive, etc. It's interesting that research supports the benefits of these.

    1. Think it sounds like you have the balance right - a mix is what we all should be doing and not heavily focused on just one thing.

  3. I agree Jo. Just like a knife that can cut vegetables or hurt people. We need to use technology wisely. I still teach many of these things like maps, writing thank you cards for mailing, etc., (we had our atlases out today, dictionary and encyclopedias) in our homeschool in fear that there might be a day when we do need this knowledge. We still buy cookbooks and enjoy a book in our hand! But, we do appreciate the calculator and this computer I am typing on! Balance is key. Thank you for sharing this week on the Art of Home-Making Mondays!

    1. I had to find a suburb on a map today (in paper version) and I must say I struggled slightly!! It is so much easier and quicker to find things in google map than using a street directory but we may not always have a smart phone and need to rely on street directory in an emergency so important to know this stuff!! Yes, its all about balance :)

      Interestedly, cookbooks sell really well and there is still heaps on the market so people are buying them, but it would be fascinating to know how many people buy cookbooks but not use them!


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