Technology renders human brain obsolete: The end is near

A couple weeks ago, I upgraded from a 2011 iPhone 4 to a brand spankin’ new iPhone 6s. I was hesitant to make the change at first because I’ve seen what an abundance of technology at one’s fingertips does to some people; they walk around with their eyes glued to their screens, Snapchat loaded and fingers poised to capture and add every single moment of their life to their “story.” I’ve been lucky enough to have previously evaded this fate, as performing even the simplest of tasks on an aged iPhone 4 takes about 10 times longer than it does on today’s machines. Still, I took the plunge and upgraded.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful; I am incredibly privileged to have such a device, and it is a remarkable invention. But while I appreciate being able to dictate text messages on-the-go so that I can tell myself that I’m not really texting and driving, I find upgrades such as the “Hey, Siri” feature excessive. Apple is not saving me any time by letting me forgo pressing the home button for, like, one second and summoning Siri through voice recognition alone. Technology companies are fabricating a sense of need; by improving features that most of us probably never even found cumbersome or inconvenient, they are taking away our self-sufficiency and making us depend on our machines. Just the other night, I was playing around with one of those creepy Snapchat filters. This particular filter identified my face, put a pair of round, nerdy glasses on me, and blew up my cheeks nice and plump. This was a huge laugh, but as I looked more closely at my cartoonish image, I realized that the future of mankind was staring back at me.

Many of you have probably seen the movie Wall-E. That movie is probably less than 25 percent good, but it still has some worth. It prophesizes a bleak future, and I fear that we are barreling towards fulfillment. Take, for example, one of the only funny scenes in the movie: the scene in which the captain needs to find out how to repair the space ship. He picks up the thick manual, and having never seen a book before, he begins shouting at “Manual” to tell him how to fix the ship. This feels eerily Siri-like to me, and the fact that the captain doesn’t recognize a book isn’t too far off from where we are now.

I was talking to Mr. Byrd the other day, and he told me about a graduate class he took on history research methods, in which he was given a list of obscure facts and had to go to the library to find the sources from whence those facts came. He said that in order to complete the task, you had to know things like which version of Britannica was the most reliable and how to use resources like books of bibliographies (which I have legitimately never heard of and do not understand). Jesus Christ. I don’t think I’ve looked for a book without consulting a computer and/or librarian since Ms. Pansulla sent me on a Dewy Decimal Scavenger Hunt in 10th grade, and I don’t think I’ve actually checked out a book since maybe the 5th grade. It’s sad how inept we have become. The fact that we can’t even find a nonfiction on the Zhou Dynasty without help is pathetic, and our teachers know this. They have tried and tried to sear into our brains how to navigate a library, how to cite sources without Noodlebib, etc., but the fact of the matter is that we don’t remember that stuff because we never use it. We just don’t have to, thanks to technology. I knew more about MLA bibliographies at age 11 than I do now. What’s more, even if we did decide to try to hone those library skills and spend a little more time with books, we would get so bored that we’d quit in a heartbeat. Here, I’ll make this point short and sweet so your brain can process it: our attention spans suck.

Dr. Stewart told my AP Music Theory class the other day that the average shot in a Hollywood film is around two seconds long, about ten times shorter than they were a few decades ago. We love our action flicks with the jump-cuts and cross-cuts that disorient us, thrill us, and most importantly, stimulate us. We have become accustomed to constant stimulation; all those bright colors and flashy effects that bombard us every time we log on have trained us to crave something amusing at every waking moment. We can’t sit still and focus for 30 seconds before we have to find some way to entertain ourselves. I’m a major example of this. That is why I sometimes like to do little attention-span-lengthening exercises. I’ll lie down, close my eyes, and make myself listen to an entire album start to finish, or maybe a symphony. Even getting through one movement without reaching for my phone is extremely difficult. I also prefer watching old movies and shows because I feel like even though it’s TV, the longer shots might train me to be a little more patient. I’d like to see any current sixth grader try to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey and keep their sanity. Or maybe a three-hour 1970s western that features a 40-second shot of some guy running in circles through a cemetery. Riveting stuff.

Call me old-fashioned, but sometimes I try this other great thing: reading. I’ll sit down with a newspaper and say to myself, “OK, self, no getting up until you’ve read the whole article.” Unsurprisingly, news is much harder to read when it’s written in full sentences instead of this bullet-point quick recap style that we are bombarded with today – you know, those “20 Reasons Putin is a Total Dweeb” Buzzfeed-type articles. Sometimes it takes a while – sometimes it feels like by the time I’ve finished reading about presidential candidates, the next one will already be sworn in – but I know that the ability to commit to something and focus on it until it’s done is an invaluable skill that my generation is quickly losing. Slow things like old movies and dry news articles feel awkward to modern audiences; we get antsy and uncomfortable, like we’ve been looking at the same thing for too long and it’s starting to give us a rash. I say we should all just push ourselves to give a little bit more brainpower to everything that we do. I mean, reading and watching movies are leisurely activities – isn’t it a tad ridiculous that we have to create distractions to get through things that are supposed to be easy on the brain?

Technology is a blessing. Really, it is. However, if having access to all the information in the world at the touch of a button means losing the ability to stare at the ceiling and be content with just my thoughts, I think I’d rather slow down than have my brain transplanted into a robot. As our world hurtles towards a more gadget-dependent future, I would like to remind everyone that the world extends beyond our screens; just as not all light is LED, not all entertainment has to be virtual. There is so much great stuff out there to look at and think about—it would be a shame to get bored of it too quickly.