It’s common knowledge that technology has revolutionised the way we live our lives – but could it also be impacting the way our brains work?
After all, with nearly everyone in the country owning a smartphone (replete with more space for contacts than anyone would ever be likely to fill), we no longer need to commit to memory the telephone numbers of our nearest and dearest.
Some purists claim this is somewhat regressive, as today’s schoolchildren no longer remember so much of what they’re taught, knowing full well that any information they require is just a Google away. However, the flipside to this is that our modern society is a more connected and informed one than ever before. Information is abundant, and can be accessed in lightning-quick time. Children (and, indeed, adults) may not have such a wealth of information stored in their grey matter, but a few taps on the smartphone will present much more than they could ever commit to memory.
Does mental arithmetic still add up to a skill worth knowing?
Elsewhere, there’s an argument that calculators are making people less adept at mental maths. Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing skills are essential for people in their weekly shop, to ensure they get the best deal or aren’t short-changed at the checkout. To this end it makes sense that people should have those skills in place. But, whilst a good mathematical grounding is undoubtedly beneficial, it’s not quite as imperative as it used to be. After all, your bespectacled maths teacher’s old adage of “you won’t always carry a calculator around with you” has turned out to be equally myopic.
Is GPS navigation really the way forward?
Opinion is also divided when it comes to the time-honoured skill of map reading – another talent said to be lost to technology. Smartphones (with their GPS tracking) have made navigation not only easier but immensely more accurate – so if they’ve encouraged more people to strap on their walking boots and get into the great outdoors, that can only be a good thing, right? However, signal and battery life can only go so far, and there are plenty of horror stories concerning people getting stuck after one or the other (or, indeed, both) gives up on them. This fact leads some to conclude that for anyone straying just a little from the beaten track, a paper map and knowledge of how to use it will never be a hindrance, even if they have a phone in their pocket.