• October 15, 2015

Is Tech Making Us Dumb?

By Marc Wilkinson, Mobility, Workplace and Network Managed Service Global Practice Lead, Enterprise Services, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

You don’t need to memorize phone numbers because your smartphone keeps track. You never need to get directions because your navigation system tells you where to go. If you’re curious about a new book but have no time to read, just look up the plot online.

In a myriad of ways, technology has revolutionized our ability to efficiently find information, resolve issues, and complete tasks. Smart technology has streamlined our lives and given us the freedom to prioritize complexities over tasks that innovation can handle. Some say we are worse for it, collectively losing brainpower by asking technology to think on our behalf.

However, in many ways, we’ve gotten smarter—and certainly more intelligent.

The question of whether technology is promoting or inhibiting our intellectual abilities is a hot topic. If you’re a fan of National Public Radio in the U.S., you might have caught this recent debate, “Smart Technology Is Making Us Dumb” (transcript here), in which four experts tackle the topic in an Oxford-style debate. (Spoiler alert: It ended in a tie.)

While there’s no question we rely on devices for more mundane tasks, there is concern among some that we may be influencing our short- and long-term memory by doing so. That concern is met with the other side of the coin: the knowledge that technology advances our social and emotional capacities, and furthers our ability to understand, decide, and do more.

Knowing Is Growing

The ways in which technology exposes us to issues, experiences, and data are just beginning to influence our lives. We can uncover information, leverage it, and reuse it to make better business decisions. We can take what we learn to disrupt the norm and drive innovation. We have infinite possibilities for convenience through the Internet of Things. This all points to progress.

In some of the most basic ways, we rely on technology to relieve the pressures of daily life. According to research from Informate Mobile Intelligence, Americans check their social media accounts 17 times a day, while the smartphone user in Argentina, Thailand, Malaysia (and more), peeks at least 40 times a day. We’re not using the devices to solve earth’s mysteries or resolve worldwide conflict. Most likely we’re reading headlines, texting, or shopping. Yet, beyond the distractions and helpful conveniences, technology is key to uncovering massive findings that would otherwise be straws in the ocean.

From amplified intelligence to predictive analytics, technology enables business intelligence in ways we are only just understanding … and not because we don’t have the brainpower—but because we don’t know what we don’t know. Organizations use data-driven strategies to optimize processes and refine their competitive edge. Enterprises can use technology to leverage hunches, or to get ahead of issues. Solutions that deliver predictive customer support, for example, analyze data to predict problems and forecast solutions before a customer asks for help. In this way, enterprises have the ability to react in smarter, stronger, safer, and more customer-centric ways.

Email gave us the ability to communicate faster and easier, but it removed the human element sometimes critical for context. Then, people were concerned. Now, email is a norm and necessity, and we have adapted. We rely on it to be productive. Are we less intelligent today because we use email?

As we advance, there’s always a push-pull phenomenon. The answer to whether or not technology is making us smarter or dumber is dependent upon your own context—one that is based on how you personally define “intelligence.”

Learn more about maximizing the impact of technology here: The Age of Enterprise Transformation.

tech and intelligenceAbout the author: In his role as the Mobility, Workplace and Network Managed Service Global Practice Lead for Enterprise Services, Marc Wilkinson is responsible for defining and driving integrated technology strategy and innovation. He previously served as Chief Technologist of both Infrastructure Technology Outsourcing and the Americas Region for Enterprise Services.