Peripheralizing Ourselves

The comment posted on Caught One by eastcoastdweller really got me thinking. I stared at the computer screen and totally agreed with his comment. I couldn’t think of anything to reply back to it. On my way home, I thought of a similar comment that I had read in a novel a few years back. Here it is;

We’ve reached a critical mass point where the amount of memory we have externalized in books and databases (to name but a few sources) now exceeds the amount of memory contained within our collective biological bodies. In other words, there’s more memory “out there” than exists inside “all of us.” We’ve peripheralized our essence.

That quote comes from Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. It is a really great read and if you get a chance I recommend it. There are some really interesting observations made throughout the entire novel. This passage is interesting because it implies that we aren’t as smart as we used to be.

Information is king these days. It doesn’t seem to matter if you know anything. You can Google it, you can phone and ask someone, you can find the information out there, somewhere. And if all the information you could possibly need is out there somewhere, then maybe it is not important to know anything. Maybe it is more important to know where to find the answers.

I don’t agree with this method of thinking that seems to have taken over common sense. For instance, do you need to know how to do any mathematical computations if you know how to use a calculator? Kids seem to think so these days. Even when I show them that I can do some computations quicker in my head, they shake theirs at me and then continue to punch the buttons.

So it seems that imagination and creative thinking are going by the wayside. Perhaps Coupland was right. Maybe we are pushing an essential part of ourselves to the side and forgetting about it. We are slowly losing our imagination and critical thinking skills. We depend on other people to imagine for us when we consume the arts (television, movies, music.)

We rely on fancy toys for our kids to play with so they don’t need to think. When I was a kid, the toy cars made no electronic noises but they always drove around our house noisily. I provided the noise, Vroom vroom! We played imaginative games with very little equipment.

It seems to me like critical thinking and imagination are not valued as much as they used to be. I think it is time that we stopped to think about this issue.

2 responses to “Peripheralizing Ourselves”

  1. Just think a moment about the ordinary things you use every day: your television, your radio, your computer, your car. And then try to explain, even in the most simplistic way, how they work.

    How many of us, if stranded on a desert island, would know how to start a fire without matches, make soap, tan an animal skin, or recreate any of the things that fill our modern society?

    For that matter, how many of us can actually define an iambic pentameter or play the violin?

    Identify iron ore and then smelt it?

    Tell a carrot from water hemlock? A potato plant from Jimson weed?

    Build a boat that actually floats for more than an hour?

  2. Chase March said…

    True, true, true. I guess the only important things to know are the things that help us to survive in this day and age. We don’t have to worry about surviving without the modern conveniences we have grown accustomed to. We also don’t need to know how they work. It is interesting to actually think about what we truly need to know.