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Doug Wrenn

Smarter Technology, But Dumber People?
By Doug Wrenn
Jun 18, 2011 - 1:45:31 AM

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When I try to log onto my voicemail on my telephone, or onto my email on my computer, some little electronic voice says, "Welcome!" Amazing! I have neighbors who are often stumped for an answer when I simply say "Good morning"!

Our technology, while created by people (at least for now), seems to be getting continually brighter, and for those of us with actual DNA, we seem to just be getting dumber, and because of technology. I can't help but wonder at what point the inmates will be running the asylum.

When in fast food restaurants (in which most of the time I am only ordering a coffee to go), my usual first challenge is to find a cashier who actually speaks and comprehends English. My second usual challenge is to find one with enough mental focus to actually memorize my short order and even get it right without me having to recite it more than three times. But the real fun happens when the new age cash register, which unlike its antiquated predecessor that I worked on in my early jobs, tells the cashier how much change to give back, goes on the fritz and then the cashier has to take off his shoes and use his toes as well as his fingers as visual aids to correctly count your change back. Even then, I usually give them three tries.

I could write a whole other piece on the lack of both work ethic and mental focus on many of our young laborers today, but as my own work ethic is somewhat lethargic today, I don't feel like writing a polemic. But suffice to say that those other contributing factors aside, our young people don't think as much today because they don't have to. Even in the classrooms, calculators are sometimes now allowed, which is great for expediency. Until something goes wrong and the befuddled user has to resort to the stone age with the dying concept known as basic arithmetic, manually calculated on paper, if not in the mind. Ask some of these same students about "fractions," and they'll most likely reply, "It's a really cool rock band, Dude!"

Speaking of the Stone Age, yours truly finally just learned how to "text" just a couple months ago. The jury is still out on that one. You would think it would be easy for me, the one who uses the same two fingers on a nice wide keyboard, but for some unknown reason, I find it necessary to use all my fingers, all my toes and the tip of my nose on the tiny little buttons on my cell phone. Recently I spent about ten minutes texting someone while with a family member, who chided me as to how long it took me to send the message. Sadly, I admitted to her that all that work was just to write and send two words.

OK, so I'm a klutz. Fair enough. But many other people are becoming idiots. I see this text gibberish, really just lazy, hyper-phonetically written shorthand, written all over the place now, on blogs, in ads, in personal notes, etc... Are people really that much in a hurry, or have they gotten dumber and forgotten how to spell? Grammar and punctuation certainly don't exist, and the latter especially on my cheap cell phone, which doesn't even have punctuation symbols. So now I look like I'm an idiot and a klutz. And while many of these texters are admittedly far more accurate and faster than me in their so-called writing, how many of them do you suppose could sit down and compose a professional business letter? Then again, given all the publicly visible tattoos and body piercings many of these circus freak wannabes sport, that scenario will likely never be a problem anyway. Many years from now, these same people will still be the shoeless wonders in the burger joint, struggling to count you change back and wondering why they never landed a white collar job, even with a college degree, and their less than appreciated "body art" by the obviously less open minded movers and shakers of the Fortune 500 elite.

Now some auto makers are lending a questionably helping hand to those drivers who probably never should have been licensed in the first place. Some newer model vehicles are now able to actually back and parallel park. I'm just waiting for the first one of these wonder cars to screw up and hit a parked car while the "driver" (for lack of a better term) just idly sits there and lets it happen. (This would be the same driver who would be either talking or texting on his cell phone if he were really driving!) Who does the investigating police officer give the ticket to, the car's computer? I just hope the car companies don't start also venturing into genetics. If they can start assigning these cars sexes, we are really in trouble. Could you imagine a female car trying back up and parallel park? That is far more carnage than I could ever envision. The sage adage tells us that if a man is hungry and you give him a fish he won't be hungry for the rest of the day. But if you teach that man how to fish, he'll never be hungry again. Many drivers (and yes, including some men), have great difficulty backing and parallel parking, and as much as they may try to avoid doing it, sometime, somewhere, circumstances will inevitably dictate that they must. And what if at the same time, much like the cash register in the burger joint, the car's backing and parking computer chip craps out and the actual driver actually has to act like an actual driver? As that annoying sidekick, Robin, always used to ask, "What now, Batman?"

Where we drive the cars is a whole other issue. Having worked on the road for many years, I can pretty well find just about anyplace with a trusty map, some common sense and a reasonably good sense of direction. On the other hand, I know drivers who cannot find their way out of a single bay garage with an illuminated fire exit sign posted above the door because of their addiction to these new GPS wonders, which, contrary to popular myth, sometimes don't seem to account for unforeseen circumstances like road construction, blockages, accidents, etc... These gadgets even seem to break down after short periods of time, as per several people I have known who have owned them. And their not cheap, especially compared to a map or a road atlas. I often also find that these GPS gizmos often sadistically send their bewildered and clueless owners the long way around the block without easier shortcuts. Not only that, but the constant chatter from these talking devices drives me nuts and reminds me of married life. But one upside to these annoying GPS chatter boxes is that much unlike a wife, at least they have an off switch to shut them up.

With no disrespect intended toward the so-called beneficiaries of all this new technology, we are making them dumber, and reliant on a fallible piece of machinery. And are the coming generations in fact truly beneficiaries, or victims? What happens, after several generations of society have become immersed with this stuff and forget how to perform what were once thought to be basic tasks of education and development to get by in daily life? Will the kids of tomorrow actually know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, as well as write a well an organized, neat and coherent letter, safely and effectively back up and parallel park their cars, and for that matter, even figure out where to drive their cars when all the widgets, gadgets, gizmos and electronic toys eventually and predictably fail them? More and more, we are replacing thinking and reasoning with convenience and complete dependence on objects, and at what expense, ultimately? How does our future look, when handed off to generations of dumbed down electronics junkies who can't count, write, find where they are going, or even back up and park once they get there? (Or be able to distinguish who they are visiting at that destination because everyone today is now mysteriously named "Dude"!) Is the tail now starting to wag the dog?

And why is it, that now, after just concluding my writing of this highly inquisitive, yet admittedly provocative piece, do I suddenly get the sickening feeling, deep in my ever prophetic gut, that when I soon log off on my computer, instead of it saying "Good-Bye" as it usually does, it will instead vengefully say, "Screw you... Dude!"?

Doug Wrenn


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