Technology, or better yet, convenience, is something extremely easy to get used to. It’s going back to the less convenient stuff that seems like an absolute bummer.
As I’m sure you’re aware, actually having an interest in something, working hard for it and overcoming any obstacle to reach our goals is a spectacularly rewarding thing. It also feels like a hassle we’d rather do later, because first we want to re-watch True Detective’s first season, and a responsibility-free task always trumps the other one.
The irony is that most of the distractions we use to escape those responsibilities were created by people who overcame theirs. An enormous amount of work was made by other humans so that we would have to think less. We rarely consider that part, though. We just take what’s available, use it and dispose it.
One of the questions that’s always been in the back of my mind regarding the Internet is if it’s making me slower; if it’s killing brain cells, because it makes everything easier for me and it’s not encouraging me to work for the results. And you know what’s fucked up? When I wanted to know that, I actually googled it. I’m trying to figure out if a system is making me less smart because of the ease I have to access answers, and my way to deal with it was to go to the magic answer factory!
As I write this, there are temptations I avoid. I mean, yes, this is a subject that interests me, but I’m also entertained by many other options, and focusing on anything has become harder every time. We got used to multi-tasking, to focusing on several activities at all times, to having an eye on every social media outlet, to checking out videos our friends send us, to keeping up with a world that is too broad to manage. The thing is that 20 or 30 years ago, if we had done that with any other distraction (TV, magazines, porn, you name it), we’d probably be having a bit of an intervention where our closest friends show their concern about our worrying behavior and unhealthy approach to life. Now we’ll just sarcastically tweet about it to the same friends and forget it ever happened.
As a lifetime procrastinator, I can’t help but feel a little envious of how school has gotten so much easier for kids nowadays. Studying is hardly the same. I used to be very proud of how little effort I put into high school and got through it, and yet my inner-lazy person salivates at how much I could really phone it in if I was going through high school now.
But maybe I’m better for that. Perhaps the fact we were taught differently allowed us to develop our cognitive skills much more than if we had been able to use the Internet – and all the distractions that come with it – during those early formative years.
As a kid, the easiest comparison with this would be the use of calculators. A big camp – usually the math enthusiast one – was always against the use of calculators, for fear it would hinder our mathematical abilities. Studies have found the use of calculators neither helped nor harmed children, as long as they knew their facts first. Sure, it’s a tool you can use to check what you’re doing and simplify the work, but the core exercise was to figure out how to solve problems ourselves. That’s what school was for! We were being trained to be functional human beings in society.
My fear is that we might be slowly regressing into people who can’t solve the most basic things, because we keep getting used to having others lay it out there for us. Easy living is wonderful, but it takes a toll not only on the future skills we might be missing, but also the present ego that wishes we could be more self-sufficient.
It all comes down to this: We appreciate things a lot more if we work for them. So, of course, if we have all the information at our fingertips, we’ll grow more and more impatient when we can’t access it. This explains why we’re cranky when our wifi is not working, or even if it’s too slow. And it doesn’t matter if what we’re doing is important or not. What’s really going on is we’ve become brattier with time. Our sense of entitlement keeps growing, because we’re accustomed to having everything whenever we want it. It’s what has opened the world for more so-called “first world problems.” Hell, it’s even why most of us know there’s a thing called “first world problems.” Anyone can make anything popular. Andy Warhol’s 15-minute theory has taken a new dimension.
The fact that you’re hopefully still reading is a victory over some cat video on YouTube you could have gone to, and I appreciate that you stuck with this; but in the end all the content we see out there is temporary. It’s adapted to our shortened attention spans. It’s why this article started as a continuation of the first and yet managed to get stashed in my hard drive for a couple of months before being finished. We’re not necessarily getting dumber, but it’s really hard to focus.
Anyway, here’s a cat video compilation…