Does Technology Make Us Smarter or Dumber?

Brianka Morgan
January 10, 2020

Does Technology Make Us Smarter or Dumber?

“Google it!”

It’s a phrase that friends use as the modern wild cry to mean “What is this?” 

For others, it’s a claim of mental superiority that signals “If Google agrees with me, then so should you!” Meanwhile, the Google artificial intelligence learned to be flattered. 

Without a doubt, there are benefits of technology. But with Siri, Google, and Cortana answering our questions in an instant, can anyone really say that the information retrieved using technology is proof of a smart person? 

Better yet, think about the information that circulates on social media channels like Facebook. In 2018, Cambridge Analytica was caught using Facebook to steal information from millions of profiles. To make matters worse, the information was used to affect voting habits during the 2016 election and continues to be used to tailor Facebook’s advertisements. When fake news and false information is widespread, how does this impact our intelligence? With technology and information at our fingertips, are we smarter or dumber than we were 30 years ago?

What does it mean to be smart?

To assess the pros and cons of technology and determine if it makes us smarter, we first must define intelligence. The problem is that, according to The Conversation’s Dr. Daphne Martschenko, intelligence is a standard of society’s culture during a certain period in history. From the early 1900s until the present, many intelligence tests, such as the popular IQ test, were used for reasons which ranged from reinforcing racist beliefs and structural prejudices to finding mental health solutions and identify challenges in learning. 

Most think of the IQ test as the best way of measuring intelligence. Others such as Howard Gardner pointed out that the IQ test does not account for productivity. As a matter of fact, increased productivity is usually assumed to be a benefit of technology, but not necessarily intelligence. The IQ test also does not account for the unique intelligence of people from different cultures, especially in the United States. With this problem in mind, many people instead point to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. For our purposes, we will use Jason Pittman’s, from Capitol Technology University, an explanation of intelligence. Pitman states that intelligence involves the ability to learn, to reason about what was learned, and to use learning and reason to solve problems. 

What does technology get to do with it?

As technology becomes more sophisticated, people worldwide use technology to enhance their ability to learn. Jennifer Slack and John Wise study the intersections between culture and technology. They explain that technology are tools created by humans to aid in manipulating their environment by extending their senses or physical abilities. These enhanced abilities are used in learning, too. A display in a classroom enhances the ability of a student to see. A computer and cell phone extend the ability of a person to search for information using technology by removing the need to walk to a library, finding in-person authorities and scholars on a topic, and connecting with people at a distance by enhancing the voice.

Technology helps us work smarter

People who say technology makes us smarter may point any factual question posed to Siri or Google as a part of the critical thinking process. They may also argue that technology benefits humans by extending their ability to learn faster. In education, Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy is used to help teachers teach and students learn. Educators may look at a Google Search as being on the lower to middle levels of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. The highest point of the model is “Creating.” Asking questions and having information readily at one’s fingertips could show active engagement in the real world. The searcher would then apply the information retrieved to live situations, potentially creating new information. Dr. Charles Vandeeper who notes the power of asking questions as a part of critical thinking says that asking questions allows one to challenge assumptions and strategically navigate difficult social situations. 

Technology and digitalization of everything is making us lonelier 

Though the pro of technology is the ability to learn more, some may claim that a con of technology is that the intelligence gained is not our own. They may say that the ability of an individual to ask questions of any search engine is simply not enough to prove individual intelligence. Instead, it is a byproduct of human’s newfound connectivity. This intelligence a sort of “collective intelligence” formed by the refinement of search algorithms, artificial intelligence creation, and machine learning. Even though the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) 2019 report shows that Americans are undergoing a loneliness epidemic. Yet, people have never been more connected through their technological devices and social media. Those who strongly claim that technology is making humans dumber point to the mental and physical idleness of technology users, social media savants, and media consumers in fact-checking information and creating meaningful face-to-face relationships. 

Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram use algorithms to constantly provide users engaging content and advertisements. Unfortunately, this narrows their world view through their biases and preferences. This is a problem because misinformation that aligns with biases can circulate in one’s social circle without pushback. The critical questioning abilities are not always used. Technology now connects me with other people like “me,” which severely damages the ability to reason and to solve problems due to a lack of diversity. This may further result in an identity crisis due to stagnant content and false information.

Does technology make us more alone?

In conclusion, whatever the nature of your wild cry, ask your questions!

“Siri, does technology make humans smarter?”

Technology has always had an oddly neutral quality to it that amplifies human strengths and weaknesses. One distinct strength mankind has with technology is the ability to reason faster and learn more when solving problems. One significant weakness they have is their biases that are reinforced on social media. This can hamper their ability to reason creatively by limiting their world view.



HRSA (Daphne Martschenko)

Slack and Wise, “Culture and Technology, a Primer, 2nd Edition” (Jason Pittman) (Vandeeper)


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