Is Technology Increasing or Suppressing Curiosity?
The following question seems to be surfacing more and more often: Is technology increasing curiosity or is it, as some people fear, suppressing it? Or even killing it altogether?
It’s the ease of access that seems to be of greatest concern. Kids today can pull up Wikipedia and find page after page of data. But are they learning anything? And is the situation any better for us adults? Or consider the news. Instead of reading it daily via print, we can now get the news all day long from our phones, tablets, laptops, and televisions. It’s easy access, but are we any more or any better informed?
A few years ago, having spent extensive time online surfing and searching, Nicholas Carr described an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with his brain. On the one hand, he can now do in minutes research that once required days in the library. On the other hand, he feels he’s not thinking the way he used to:
I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do.
There’s an understandable concern that instant gratification is making us less likely to be curious about increasingly difficult problems. By filling our brains with easy answers, we become less likely to go after wicked problems, a phrase originally used in social planning to describe a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are difficult to recognize.
Interestingly, with Curiosity as the name of NASA’s Mars rover, a web search of curiosity and technology generated pages of links to the Mars expedition. As a result, I found myself absorbed by videos and articles about the exploration of Mars. Score one for curiosity (with a small “c”).
What have you observed about yourself? Your co-workers? Your family members and friends? Is technology adding to their curiosity or decimating it?