How technology and the digital age is eradicating creative thought
Technological advancements have revolutionized every facet of society. Today, technology has fully embedded itself in the DNA of the human race. It is the perfect tool that allows the human mind to push the boundaries of what is possible continually. However, with the eruption of progress that it has allowed society to make, certain adverse effects are just now coming to light. Certain studies have explored these troubling developments and have linked them to an interesting source: The next generation of humanity. These teenagers, currently in high school, are the first to grow up in a world dominated by the digital revolution brought on by technological advancement.
To see these trends for myself, I decided to return to the very high school I attended as a teenager to observe the new generation as they develop into the future caretakers of our world. By using my own experience as a baseline, I sought to gauge the changes evident in this new generation accurately. The experience resulted in a surprising realization: What was once a supplement for intellectual thought has become a dependence, which is invariably stunting both cognitive and social development of these young adults. This intellectual handicap is particularly apparent in creative thinking— a line of thinking that was critical in enabling the previous generation to develop the advancements that revolutionized the world. It is critical to the preservation and enhancement of our identity. The mind is like any other muscle in the body; it requires consistent activity to grow and mature. With technology providing a constant crutch, it is limiting that process. Without it, the new generation may not be capable of the intellectual strength necessary to push the culture forward.
One of the most important tenets of intellectual growth comes from the steady flow of ideas. The concept of sharing thoughts and opinions, regardless of their accuracy, has been a fundamental component of intellectual progression since the days of Socrates. This technique is particularly critical in subjects that rely on creative thought, such as English, where discussion is the primary method to foster learning. I decided the best place to begin my observations was in an 11th Grade English class taught by my old English teacher. He was one of my favorite instructors because of his enthusiasm for the material, which always translated to intellectually stimulating courses. His classes were always vibrant sites of productive discussion where even those not fully invested were able to extract something meaningful from. Unfortunately, I quickly found that things had substantially changed since those days.
The teacher, attempting to promote a discussion about William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, with the same enthusiasm I remembered, asked the class a simple question: What is revenge? Instead of the spirited discussions that would be ignited, in which students would explore concepts from different angles to gain a deeper understanding of the material, the class was completely silent. They sat listlessly in their seats, while the teacher stood suspended in silence waiting for a student to spark an idea that would lead to a fruitful discussion, but it never came. I looked around at the students and was amazed to see that many of them were mindlessly scrolling through their phones, completely disconnected from the experience. This was a stark contrast to the days when having a cell phone out in class would result in instant confiscation, a rule that forced the students to be at least partially engaged. Finally giving up on receiving a volunteer, the teacher chose a student at random to answer. The student was surprised and before even attempting to respond, began furiously typing on his phone after which he recited the dictionary definition of the word. He had actually Googled the definition of “revenge.” Rather than using his own intellect to produce a response, he relied on technology to do all the work. What was even more startling was that the teacher accepted this answer and began driving the conversation forward himself, noticeably deflated at the lack of engagement.
After the class concluded, I approached him about the way the students were always on their phones. He responded in a simple, yet defeated tone: It’s the way it is now. He went on to explain that the lack of stimulating discussions was very common because the students he taught were always on their phones, forcing him to carry the discussion himself. He went on to say that the lack of conversational synergy would result in an even less engaged classroom environment. His response showed me that this class wasn’t an anomaly, but the new norm. It is indicative of the current state of the intellect of the next generation. By using the crutch of technology so often, their mental faculties aren’t getting the chance to grow. The flow of ideas has become sparse, and the discussion to foster them is alarmingly absent. Without it, the creative thought that has driven society forward cannot exist.
After sitting through a few more lessons with the same teacher, I found that the classes exhibited similar tendencies. They were all glued to their phones, many even using their devices to take pictures of notes instead of taking the time to write them out, and some even playing games. As the day wore on, I made another startling observation about the way technology has altered their social interactions. High school has always been a crucible of social growth in which the fundamentals of adult interaction are learned. While that is still taking place today, it is doing so in a much different fashion. Students are paying more attention to the screens of their phones rather than their actual surroundings, including the people they share them with. Their interactions with each other are filtered through the digital prism of technology.
The school I observed is one of many that have now implemented the use of Chromebooks. While this tactic was undoubtedly meant to supplement the classroom experience, my observations show that it may do more harm than good. In a class I observed taught by a different teacher, students were told to log onto their Chromebooks to engage in a collaborative exercise to study vocabulary with their classmates. In my experience, these activities always resulted in lively discussions and interactions. Today, “collaboration” between students occurred through the lens of a computer screen. Instead of physically interacting and working on the assignment, there was a buffer of technology between them that guided their every step. The flow of actual conversation and interaction of ideas was all happening digitally, while the students themselves sat quietly in their seats. Technology was not only providing an intellectual crutch but was now replacing human interaction. The vessel through which intellectual thought flourished for generations has now been replaced.
There was another adverse effect I noticed during my observational endeavor that was entirely new to this new generation, something much darker. Towards the end of the day, I noticed a student in the back of the class on his phone looking at explicit content. I was stunned to see that he was doing this in the middle of class. After bringing it to the attention of the teacher after class, he said it was fairly commonplace these days. He recounted situations in which the students were themselves participating in the dissemination of this content on a wide scale. The early access and familiarity with technology have clearly opened a window into graphic material that is easily accessible. This content is being devoured by developing minds to satiate natural curiosity that used to be satisfied by a much healthier material. These students are now desensitized at an extremely early age because of the easily accessible resources at their disposal. This is a corrosive shackle to the healthy development of intellect. It is yet another alarming trend that paints a grim picture of where the future is heading.
My time observing my old high school left me amazed at how much things have changed since my time there eight years ago. The new generation that will inherit control of the world left me unsure of the direction our society is heading. I had always considered technology to be an invaluable asset by which we could accomplish amazing things. It is a perfect companion to our intellect that enhances our ideas, igniting progress. However, our minds have always been the main engine of this momentum. After all, the human mind was the chief architect that constructed the very technology we use today. Based on my observations of the youth of today, our accomplishments have inadvertently created an issue that may ironically rob us of that progress in the future.
The widespread use of technology and the digital outlets that come with it have ensnared the minds of the next generation. What was once an intellectual tool has become a crutch, resulting in a troubling dependency to it. This is hindering the flow of creative thought that has been vital in our progression and is resulting in adverse effects. By looking at the same teacher that once stoked the flames of intellectual curiosity in my generation and seeing how defeated he seemed in the face of a new digitally addicted one, it becomes clear that something needs to change to restore the vitality of intellect. The repercussions of these trends won’t be fully felt until the youth inherits control of the world, but by then it may already be too late.