Monday, October 11, 2010

Digitally Dumbed Down While Ascending the Tower of Babel

Focus! Multitasking excellence is a myth. Six million years
of primate evolution must militate against the Distracted
Digital Age; our human brains were hardwired to concentrate
on intricate problems, with a loss of peak performance when
distracted. No one can simultaneously and accurately
perform four or more tasks; switching back and forth between
them is little better.

But our egos tell us otherwise (we multitaskers are au courant,
the best and the brightest--just see how busy and connected
we are!)Yes, yet: accuracy is significantly less, and analytical,
logical processes are fragmented, reduced. Check out the
multitasking experiments at MIT and Stanford as described on a
recent PBS Frontline, "Digital Nation"; you may be as chagrined
as the carefully chosen students tested were, suddenly faced with
evidence of their less than-accomplished brilliance.

Certain university educators have been forced into a kind of
reductio ad absurdia, wherein they no longer assign books
over 200 pages to their students, some of whom in turn publicly
admit they no longer read books at all, but instead utilize
digital analogs of Cliff's Notes. Some professors have concerns
about the reduced ability to maintain, sustain protracted focus,
leading others to pen tomes bemoaning the "dumbest generation".

So what are we left with? -Too many younger people who don't
know that Dayton is in Ohio, can't locate large European
countries on a map, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. -Grammar rules
and spelling tossed by the wayside, which in turn dulls and
distorts any intent to accurately communicate.

Then there is our immaturity, initially prolonged because the
United States considered itself the sole winner of WWII (as we
sustained fewer losses and no invasions to speak of). The Xbox
crew vanishes for long periods into a vicarious "reality"
where they have "adventures" and "skills" "far beyond those of
mortal men", becoming Superman (-Super Avatar?) for the
moment. Whatever happened to actually BECOMING someone,
something, special? Answer: that takes far more effort,
sustained focus (reread: hard work, appreciation of delayed
gratification.) Overly highly prioritizing fun and relaxation
is more properly the domain of children, not adults, who
supposedly mature to enjoyments of a deeper
sort, while still retaining a sense of fun.

All this is absolutely nothing new, current media warnings
to the contrary. The rush to the bottom, lowest common
denominator culture has been building my whole 65 years.
"New", "easy", etc. blared out from ads from NYC's Madison
Avenue not long after WWII ended, smoothly segueing/sliding us
into the consumer culture, the Me Decade, the Me Generation and
--voila! The Wow! Now! Generation. All technology turnover has
done merely exacerbated these national societal trends.

Every new generation generates fears that the world will now
be carted off to Hell in a handbasket, which thankfully hasn't
happened. But with the advent of the Atomic Bomb and
"automation" (antiquated term, that) the world HAS forever
changed, and many of us are afraid we have engaged in a
Faustian bargain with our darker selves, with unmanageable results.

So, what's next? --Another new gadget that entertains us and
detains us from looking deep inside, the real final frontier.
I'm not wishing for a return to the cave, merely hoping
for just enough simplicity married to introspection which will
enrich all our lives and relationships, solve pressing global

In the meantime, however, we're being digitally dumbed down
while ascending the Tower of Babel. Alexis de Tocqueville and
George Santayana are still spinning in their graves.


  1. Multi-tasking is a talent. Just as it can be natural for some to sing or play a musical instrument there are people for whom handling multiple tasks comes easy. Where humans differ is in competency. Or more accurately, their own confidence in their own competencies.

    To some degree multi-tasking is a requirement, for everybody, in everyday life. Some people just suck at it. There are many who are challenged holding a single task-oriented thought or concept. Their efforts can cause more work, confusion, problems etc. for everyone around them.
    But at the end of their day, they smile contentedly as if to say "Hey, That was easy. I just did a bad job.".

    Consider the drivers you encounter each and every day. Talk about being "suddenly faced with evidence of their less than-accomplished brilliance"! For some, just turning the engine over over-taxes their abilities. Then they join YOU on the road.

    Just another task added to your own list of things to track. Over time you develop a sense about who and what is deserving of a wide-berth while they blunder on like Mr. Magoo; oblivious.

    I can't knock it though. Bill Engvall has made a nice living off the phenomena.

    Here's your sign!

  2. Thanks, Watcher, for your response. I'm looking
    forward to our meet up on the 23rd. It's great that Steve and Gloria can make it.

    You and I disagree a bit with respect to multitasking, probably because I narrowly define it. I once jammed along with WFMT,
    singing and dancing while playing on my
    MIDI-ized keyboard, but here my two hands
    were only occupied by the one task. So some would say I multitasked that day, but I wouldn't. Probably too, what some are describing are quickly sequential actions;
    lacking simultaneity, this is also not
    multitasking. (Whoever carries out two
    different actions with their two hands
    simultaneously IS multitasking, in my view.)

    I must agree with you that some are more agile and talented than others, we see
    that everyday.

    Now I'm going over to your blog.
    Have a great weekend, you and yours!

  3. Rubbing your belly while patting your head is a multitask. Piano is a bi-lateral instrument that requires multitasking skills.

    The old saw about walking and chewing gum correctly identifies the limitations some face.

    Parenting is all about acquiring skills needed to handle thinking for two or more while dealing with a variety of tasks. Anticipating and getting ahead of a inquisitive child is masters level coursework.
    Multiple children should get you a PhD...
    IF you can master the necessary skills, without resorting to restraints or constant threat of bodily harm, you're mostly qualified to handle any challenge.

    Interacting with a population at-large is some serious multitasking. Being able to process, identify, sort and prioritize obstacles, dangers and threats while also recognizing assets along the way is called "street smarts".

    I think any disagreement between us arises from you giving people agility, talents and skills they've neither demonstrated nor exercised. While I readily accept that a certain percentage operate barely above autonomic.

    Some of those even get elected to office.

  4. We don't disagree, I see now. Both of us don't
    seem to find all that many very truly talented
    humans around the landscape. I just reserve the
    term multitasking for a very high level of action, something extraordinary, that's all. Which logically leads to agility, skills, etc., being regarded as rare, not common.

  5. I just saw a rerun of the PBS special,
    "Digital Nation". One young, self-satisfied
    turk know-it-all proclaims (with all the authority of certain young folk) that all
    print media will be extinct in ten years.
    He's very likely wrong, because print allows
    for no concerns about server shutdowns, batteries and laptops gone dead, stolen, etc.
    Ya don't need any extra energy to read print,
    it's a done deal, often more portable and expendable (other copies available) than expensive electronics.

    But these embarrassing pronouncements have
    been uttered before; here are only two for darkly delightful delectation:

    (1) "Too cheap to meter". That prediction was about nuclear power providing electricity almost free to America --by golly, why even
    bother to chart (via meters) the cost? When I
    look at my ComEd bill I don't find anything
    "free" there--"smart" meters aside. No one else does either.

    (2) "With computers we'll become a paperless
    society." This is the forerunner of the young
    turk I mentioned earlier, many years before the internet. This pronouncement was of course proven as equally laughable as that in (1). Have printer sales fallen off sharply compared to PCs, Macs and laptops? I'll hazard a "no".

    Be careful what you predict, it could come back to haunt you.