Thursday, February 20, 2014

Smart, or Just Clever?

I saw this on Facebook, and it got me thinking about whether or not we face a decline in the intelligence of our culture, and whether it is due, in part to our technological advances. In one sense, there is a lot of evidence that the ready availability of information through technology has not made us smarter. In fact, it seems to have negatively impacted memory and the learning of certain facts that were once considered essential pieces of knowledge for educated people to have. We simply assume we can "Google" whatever we want--and usually, we can [check the now classic article, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" here]. Does that make us smart or just clever? After all, does dependence on Google and the answers it gives ensure that we gain the truth? Then again, was everything we memorized before technology "true?" And did the Latin and Greek that was once taught affect the majority of students when high school graduation was not a given, or even necessary, one hundred years ago? Much more has changed than just the curriculum.

We have made education both mandatory and egalitarian--everyone must finish high school, and everyone is now expected to go to college. A century ago, people still had the choice to go into a trade without a high school diploma (in the 1970's that was still the case in many other western nations, where going on for the last two years of high school required passing an entrance test). Now schools must provide a high school diploma that is achievable by all--so the curriculum and set of expectations has been altered accordingly.  That isn't evil or wrong, but it means we cannot say that high school diplomas now mean the same thing as they did in the 1950's or before.

The same transition is occurring in universities and colleges.  Going to college is now is considered the "normal" path to follow, and is supposed to be accessible to all.  Many college graduates are discovering that a Master's degree is considered "entry level" in various fields, and within today's culture graduating from college is now treated the same way graduating from high school was fifty years ago.

I was amused but also disturbed the other day to see a video from Jimmy Kimmel's TV show where he sent a "reporter" out to interview people about the death of President Roosevelt, as if FDR had just died.  The reporter asked increasingly pointed questions that should have made people aware that they were being played as fools, but they continued to answer the reporter's questions with what they thought were serious answers about what they thought about his legacy, what words of comfort would they share with Eleanor (now dead over 50 years), whether his being in a wheelchair disturbed them at all, did they follow him on Twitter, etc.  Either these people were stunningly unaware of their nation's history or they were more interested in being on camera for a moment of glory than they were with questioning the truth of questions they were being asked (You can see that video here).  Sad as this may be, I almost hope these folks were just seeking fame; I'd hate to think they knew as little as they seemed to in this video.

Personally, I think human intellect is generally declining due to the continuing effects of the Fall.  It may well be God's common grace that has provided technological crutches to help offset the decline.