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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Toying with a world without tech

Published: January 31, 2013
Section: Opinions

Sometimes when lost in thought, or perhaps after pulling too many late nights in the library, I gaze around at all the technology that surrounds me and I come to a devastating and perplexing conclusion. If suddenly all these tools were abolished, and the human race were left to recreate the innovations that define our modern lives without the aid of the engineers, researchers or scientists who created them, would we be able to do it? Or would we be thrown back in time to pursue the same discoveries and inventions at only a slightly accelerated pace? Would the entirety of scientific history have to repeat itself?

I confess that I have absolutely no knowledge of the mechanisms that drive my antiquated LG Cosmo, never mind the sophisticated technology behind an iPhone or Blackberry. I could not construct a laptop, or even devise the mechanisms for creating a simple microwave. I know that a car moves when I press the gas pedal, but if I was told to construct the engine for an automobile, I would be at a complete and utter loss. Although this might not be a normal thing to think about, it does seem baffling. We are surrounded by all this technology, it has become an inherent part of our lives, yet do we truly understand it? How many of us, if stranded without the aid of Internet access, would be able to devise the plans necessary to recreate a cell phone?

With the technological geniuses of society aside, does the common user of these devices, which have become so integrated and fundamental to our daily routines, have any notion of the underlying knowledge behind such tools? I for one have never taken a single physics class in my entire lifetime, a fact which seems to be a crucial missing component of my education. Even individuals who claim to be tech savvy, ridiculing those of us who require assistance with formatting an excel sheet, might be at a loss. Knowledge of how to use a device and the depth of understanding required to comprehend the mechanisms that power technology remain devastatingly distanced. Mastery over the usage of an object does not indicate true intelligence and understanding, but rather exposure and familiarity.

So while we think of ourselves as highly advanced, in reality we have just become extremely adept at using the inventions and innovations of others. Although I am not saying I am suddenly overwhelmed by the desire to learn how to create touch screen software or even create something as basic as a mechanical toothbrush, I do think this trend is relatable to diverse aspects across our lives.

Exposure to a subject should not warrant automatic beliefs of intellectual superiority. While you may be well-versed in the poetic lines of Shakespeare or the neurotransmitters that play a critical role in Parkinson’s disease, memorization is no substitute for the development of original ideas or the potential to work through intricate problems. Never underestimate someone simply on the basis that they have never read a certain novel, for they could potentially emerge as the greatest novelist of our time. It is acceptable to rebel against the standard measures of culture and intelligence created by society. “Death of a Salesman” may be an acclaimed classic work of literature, but does the fact that I thoroughly disliked reading it reflect negatively on my intelligence? I don’t think so.

The sad truth is that countless individuals’ potential is never given the opportunity to emerge or flourish, whether it be due to difficult circumstances or other barriers that appear throughout life. Yet, their intellectual potential and capacity may far exceed someone who has been granted all the opportunities to absorb a wealth of information through higher education and leisure time. Even our own inability to understand the devices that have become such an integral component of our daily routine reflect the distinction between true understanding and the blind usage of tools presented to us. I highly doubt we will be confronted with a situation in which all technological innovations are suddenly eradicated; but that doesn’t stop the thought from giving me pause.