Technology And Humans

The power of Computers

“The average student today has more information at their fingertips than an elite scholar had twenty years ago.”

“developments in technology and communications are not liberating but controlling, “I always wanted to be free.” Don McLean

“We should all interested in the future because that is where we are going to spend the rest of our lives." Jeron Criswell King

Computers, like all inventions can be beneficial or detrimental to humans. We need to consider the overall** effects** of technology. There is no doubt that technology changes the way we do things and has an effect on our perspectives and our thinking patterns.  As Marshall McLuhan put it, “*the medium is the message”*.  Whether the luddites and jeremiahs are right and “*we will all be rooned*”, or whether we evolve into some higher form of being is open to speculation.

 

Computers double their capacity every 18 months and they could acquire a billion times more intelligence than the human brain. We live in the age of the information superhighway – with an implosion of knowledge that can lead to information overload.  While a 1960’s newspaper had more information than a 17^(th) century scholar saw in their lifetime, today’s internet has opened the floodgates of information to many times that.  While much of it is reliable, the potential for disinformation in all mediums, as always, has become even more enormous. 

Whether we like it or not, technology is here to stay and we need to adapt to its ubiquitous presence. In an article ‘Technology trumps books’ ** Richard Vaughan** argues that  “no internet at home puts pupils at a *‘serious’ disadvantage”* and *“ Almost seven out of 10 teachers believe interactive whiteboards and computers in classrooms are more important than textbooks*”.

In a poll of almost 600 teachers, 68 per cent of respondents felt ICT equipment was more significant to their pupils than traditional teaching materials.  More than half - 55 per cent - believed pupils would be “seriously disadvantaged” with no internet access at home as teachers are setting more and more homework that requires technology,” but a smaller proportion - almost 30 per cent - predicted that textbooks will become obsolete.

Valerie Thompson, chief executive of the e-Learning Foundation, a charity that aims to tackle the digital divide, said the results showed that a “change in pedagogy” is currently taking place in schools. In an article Libraries are ‘less important’ than ICT published in The TES on 5 November, 2010 she argues E-books take up less space, cost less and are often more up to date. Easy to read fonts require little conscious effort.  Ironically, the world’s most hated font, Comic Sans, risibly dismissed as juvenile, shallow and fatuous, is suddenly hailed as  “sufficiently unfamiliar to make pupils’ brains work harder to comprehend – without being so difficult as to stop children reading altogether”.  (Times Educational Supplement Jan. 2011)  

 

We need to also consider four negative aspects of technology: Loss of power – fulfilment, Isolation from others - Increasing disconnection or alienation from society, and the Loss of empathy - people skills.

Loss of power – fulfilment, #

The pen is mightier than the sword, but the question today is whether a word processor is more effective than a nuclear warhead.

Computers can be imperious and we in danger of becoming mere puppets – as Tennyson said, “ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or die”.  There are many unfathomable quirks in the system and we are expected to supinely do as we are told. Technology is a new version of the tower of Babel; as soon as we begin to believe we are capable, our weaknesses are revealed and we feel threatened.  However, if anyone ever says to you, “the computer won’t let us do this”, tell them computers should be our slaves and we, their masters.

The introduction of calculators, now part of all computers and hand held devices has done away with the need to be quick with numeracy and many young people are unable to do even the simplest calculations in their head.

Evidence suggests that the medium of Word processors and online publishing have influenced the way writers write.  Sentences are shorter as are paragraphs, with more “white space”.  Time pressures motivate succinctness and the global audience is invited to respond via comments.

Readers too have changed their habits and tend to less deep prolonged reading, preferring a quick grab like our fast food.  Succinctness is the secret of Wikipedia.   The danger of technology is that it can breed laziness, passivity and impotence by reducing thinking abilities, focusing and the retention of information.  

The proliferation of computers and mobile phones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, lure adults too, but it’s particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks - and less able to sustain attention. With too much connectedness we lose real and meaningful committed relationships.

Some neuroscientists are concerned about what happens to the brains of young people who are constantly online playing video games leading to markedly lower sleep quality, and also led to a ‘‘significant decline’’ in the boys' ability to remember vocabulary words. The intensity of the game experience overrides the brain’s recording of the vocabulary. 

Generation wired to distraction,  Matt Richtel  New York Times  Nov. 27,   20.10

Conversely other studies indicate that concentration and reflex actions improve with video and computer games

Students need to learn how to filter, refine and process the information they receive; regardless of the medium’s source, to be better learners.

Computers can diminish our self reliance and our sense of fulfilment can be robbed by computers doing everything for us.

Isolation from others - Increasing disconnection or alienation from society #

*Technology has the spooky capacity to strip away our humanity; dehumanising us. *James Norman

As virtual reality replaces actual reality in social networking – Facebook, internet chat rooms - what are we losing in the bargain?  Removing that spontaneous layer of human social instinct and organic connectedness - and what we are left with is a sanitised, soulless and loveless social life.

As more and more of us do business online, shopping, paying bills….. there is less human interaction and more isolation.

Loss of empathy #

What is diminished when we filter our personalities through the inter web is the essential stuff of humanness - a person’s capacity for empathy, their uniqueness and idiosyncrasies, the quirky way they respond to a social environment.

Unchecked immersion in such technology carries with it the serious danger of producing a generation of hard-wired, oversexed, anaesthetised emotional cripples.

Loss of people skills. #

People who constantly work with computers can also develop a lack of Civility.  While computers are logical and predictable, technophiles can find our emotive and quirky natures unpredictable, frustrating and difficult to deal with.  Many geeks become tetchy and uncommunicative if not outrageously rude.

 

There isn’t much dignity left today, a point beautifully made in an essay by David Brooks in The New York Times. The “dignity code”, as Brooks calls it, has been “completely obliterated” by the pressures of modern life.

 

The rise of Cybernetics (use of implants to make robots or cyborgs – humans with computer chip grafts or biological brains) is a growing field of technical development by merging with the technology we create, we become more like it and we could become less human and more mechanical in our outlook and robotic in character. 

The attention spans of readers are getting shorter, with innumerable technological distractions vying for our attention.

**
And you thought computer games were good for nothing**.

Worried about all those hours your children are spending with joystick in hand playing games on a computer screen. Relax. You might have the next generation of skilled surgeons in the making.

According to a new study from researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) – a world leader in minimally invasive and robotic surgery – the superior hand-eye coordination and hand skills gained from hours of repetitive joystick manoeuvres mimic the abilities needed to perform today’s most technologically-advanced robotic surgeries.

To offer insight on how best to train future surgeons, the study placed high school and college students head to head with resident physicians in robotic surgery simulations. The results, presented at the American Gynaecologic Laparoscopists' 41st Annual Global Congress on Minimally Invasive Gynaecology in Las Vegas, were surprising.

Both high school sophomores who played video games on average two hours per day and college students who played four hours of video games daily matched, and in some cases exceeded, the skills of the residents on parameters that included how much tension the subjects put on their instruments, how precise their hand-eye coordination was and how steady their grasping skills were when performing surgical tasks suck as suturing, passing a needle or lifting surgical instruments with the robotic arms.

“The inspiration for this study first developed when I saw my son, an avid video game player, take the reins of a robotic surgery simulator at a medical convention,” said Dr. Sami Kilic, in a press release. “With no formal training, he was immediately at ease with the technology and the type of movements required to operate the robot.”    Richard Farmer – Crikey.com 16.11.12