I may be (okay, I probably am) overdoing it.
I first published this post under the title Digital Stupidity in October of 2010, then re-posted it two years later under the title Best of Bob. I still think it is one of my best:
(Author's note: Many of my younger readers will not recognize the term PDA - In the language of today, it stands for Public Display of Affection, but when I wrote this five years ago, it stood for Personal Digital Assistant. A PDA was a primitive electronic device, a sort of ancestor of today's smart phones and tablets.)
Back in the late ‘90s, I got my first pocket-sized Electronic Organizer, an early ancestor of today’s PDA. It had a small back-up battery to retain the data in its miniscule memory so the triple A batteries that ran the thing could be replaced when they wore out. I would eventually learn how devastating the loss of that back-up battery could be.
I was delighted with the device to begin with. It worked as advertized, and it did increase my efficiency, bringing a multitude of information – phone numbers, part numbers, names and addresses – literally to my fingertips.
Within just a couple of weeks, though, the infernal device had robbed me of all ability to remember phone numbers on my own. Oh, I could tell you the number of the phone our family had when I was five – the one that began with MU-lberry and later became OX-ford – but I couldn’t give you the number of the cell phone that shared an overloaded pocket with the damned Organizer. I also discovered that I was rapidly losing the ability to do simple math in my head.
It was then that I decided that electronic devices, like prescription medicines, should be required to list possible side effects. If the acne medicine says it minimizes Blackheads, but can also cause Migraine Headaches, Impotence and Death, even the most insecure adolescent might think twice about using it. But nobody warned us up front that things like calculators, computers, the internet, etc. - while they looked like boons to mankind - were actually deadly plagues waiting to destroy our mental abilities and turn us all into intellectual cripples.
In retrospect, it seems so simple. Any muscle that is never exercised will atrophy over time – “Use It Or Lose It” is a mantra that is absolutely true. We should have been able to see that without a Surgeon General’s Warning:
This Device Can Make You Stupid