Is Technology Making Us Dumber?


In Lake Park Wisconsin last week a professional transport truck driver with almost 30 years accident-free experience behind the wheel drove his rig onto a pedestrian path, across two foot bridges and had to be lifted by crane back onto the roadway after collapsing a third. The culprit… he was following his GPS voice instructions.



He is not alone in his problems with technology. Just ask the FAA.


Modern flight path management systems on today’s aircraft provide a “moving map” to see the position of the aircraft. The pilot programs the route of flight and then the autopilot can follow the planned route. The use of this technology makes everyone smarter right? No, it actually it creates new challenges that can lead to diminishing of pilot knowledge and skills.

But it’s safe, thoroughly tested on specialized multi-redundant equipment right? Look again closer.


What happened to the truck driver and happens to today’s pilots, multiple times every week, is that they not only start to implicitly trust the technology they are working with but also can no longer do their basic functions without it. The FAA has implemented a program where they need to actively back down on the reliance on technology in the cockpit with 4 key principles.

· Improved training and flightcrew procedures to improve autoflight mode awareness

  • AKA Know when the computer is in control and what it’s doing for you

· Reducing the number and complexity of autoflight modes from the pilot’s perspective

  • AKA Keep it simple, don’t let it the computer be too much smarter than the pilot

· Highlight and stress that the responsibility for flight path management remains with the pilots at all times.

  • AKA Remember you are actually the pilot not the computer

· Identify appropriate opportunities for manual flight operations

  • AKA Turn it off once in a while and go be a real pilot

Let’s bring it a little closer to home. …. Are you getting dumber?

Your sister’s birthday is tomorrow. You call your brother-in-law to ask what she would like for her birthday and he tells you. You will go out to the store tomorrow morning and pay by check for it. (she likes expensive things)

A quick test.

· Without looking at your phone what is the phone number of your 3 closest family members or friends? (your sister)

· You are going out to the mall tomorrow, how long would it take you to find tomorrow’s weather if you were not allowed to look at your smart phone or computer?

· Take the price of the item suggested by your brother-in-law and add 14% sales taxes and provide the grand total. You may not use a calculator of any sort. The price is $600.00

· What’s the current balance in your checking account? You may not use the internet.

· Which of the three electronics retailers has the best price for your sister’s present and do they have it in stock? You may not use the internet.

Here is how I would answer those questions.

· I know 1 of 3 sister’s phone numbers because it has not changed in 40 years, long before I had a computer or cell phone so it’s imprinted. The other two sisters, the only place it is stored is in my contacts list on my computers, tablets and phones. Without them or internet access, I would not know them and as they are both out of town so a phone book is not useful (if I had one). What was that number again (areacode) 555-1212?

· If I had to check the weather without internet, I suppose I could check the weather channel. But I discontinued live TV service in favour of internet Netflix etc. Perhaps I would go buy a newspaper if I actually had to know?

· Ah-ha at last something I can do in my head.

  • Price of item. Move decimal 1 place left. That’s 10%
  • Half of that amount again is 5% . Add the 2 together
  • Move the decimal 2 place on the price that’s 1%
  • Subtract that amount from the sub-total of the 2
  • Tada 14% …
  • (but I truly wonder how many people could do it)

The price is $600 (go ahead try it… yes I like my sister apparently)

Now try it again at $961.24 (can you still do it in your head?)

· My chequing account balance would require a trip to an ATM (of my bank only) to get a balance display. If the ATM was out of order and the bank/telephone banking was closed I could guess within $500 likely and be right. But I would not be 100% right.

· To check electronic retailers I would likely need a trip to the garage recycling bin and retrieve unopened flyers for the past few weeks. It is possible the item may be in it, but most likely I would just get an impression about which store normally had better prices. Or I wait until tomorrow and visit all three.

Originally I laughed when I saw the picture of the poor guy’s truck stuck on the pedestrian path, but now I realize it is no laughing matter. We need to leverage technology to make us better and smarter but we need to make sure it is in fact doing just that.

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