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The Lost Art of Thinking

We’ve been noticing a scary trend in the world. Our devices – phones, tablets, ereaders, computers – are trying to do all our thinking for us.

They remember phone numbers, names, addresses. They guide us through our travels, telling us when to turn and the most direct route to take. They decide what words we are trying to type and helpfully (and sometimes humorously) insert them into our texts.

Did you ever try to format a novel? The word processing program makes all sorts of assumptions about what you are trying to do.  It adds blank pages where you do not want them. It tries to indent lines. It adds bullets where none are desired. It does all this because it has been programmed to make assumptions about what you are trying to do and then rush in oh-so-helpfully to make your life easier.

The trouble is computers are not good at thinking. They are not capable of nuance, they don’t understand exceptions. They are rigid, by-the-book, follow-the-rules kind of thinkers. And yet with every new device, every updated program, we are allowing them to do more and more of our thinking for us.

Why? It saves times. It’s convenient. It’s just so damn easy.

No one remembers phone numbers anymore. No one needs to learn or even remember how to get to a new location. We don’t have to memorize addresses. We don’t even have to remember what books we have read. Somewhere, in the gigantic world we call the Internet, a database exists that tracks every book purchase and every other purchase for that matter.  Our computers remember our logins and passwords so that we don’t have to.  They remind us of birthdays. They make recommendations on everything from what we should read next to whom our perfect lover might be.

Don’t believe computers are thinking for you? Take this simple test. Can you dial the phone numbers of your family and closest friends without looking the numbers up? Can you drive to a place you have never been before without a GPS? Do you remember all your logins and passwords? Can you recall birthdays in a timely-enough fashion to send a card?

Many folks will claim life is so hectic, so stressful, so gosh-darned busy, that having computers remember things for us is a wonderful idea. And, yes, as tools go, computers are pretty amazing, and they make life easier in many ways. However, our brains, like our bodies, become out-of-shape from lack of use. Computers take from us a vital function. They are directing our decisions. They are becoming our memories.



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