When I went grocery shopping last week, “sunflowers” were on my list, but with details. I was looking for non-variegated yellow petals and black centers (my wife has a much better artistic sense than I do, so I sometimes get these kinds of instructions). When I got there nothing exactly matched the description so I whipped out my iPhone, took a picture of the sunflowers they had, emailed it home, and called my wife. She said those were fine so I picked them up and, feeling very pleased with myself for my new-media savvy, turned around to find that someone had walked off with the cart that had my shopping list in it. While I was focused on the e-world, the real world had gone ahead without me.
This reminded me of a recent cab ride. We were at the airport and got in a taxi. I told the driver the address and what route to take – a well-known shortcut I had learned years ago when I drove a cab. He was flustered and angry because he didn’t know where I was talking about going – he usually just entered an address into his onboard computer, which gave him a route with instructions. He didn’t actually know where he was. I realized that this isn’t unusual, many cabbies don’t learn their city anymore because they don’t have to. Another disconnect from reality.
As with Wendy’s recent post about Blackberries in meetings, it looks like the ubiquitous electronic virtual reality is disconnecting us from the world we live in. From people walking down the street listening to earphones, to drivers talking on cell phones, more and more we’re not in touch with what’s happening right around us. We’re dependent on Google or Wikipedia for information, or GPS for directions, or e-mail and texting for communicating with people in the same building.
What does this mean for our ability to live and work in the real world? Are we losing the ability to find our way and work out solutions on our own? Are computers making us stupid?