Is an ‘idiot-proof’-world making us behave like idiots?

What do you do first when being asked to find the route to an unknown location? Or  when you need to figure out how to split a restaurant bill? And which source would you first consult when you are unsure of how a word is spelled? Most people would immediately take out their phones for help with these problems. During the last decade, the technology of mobile devices has advanced to such a level that practically everyone around the world owns a smartphone and carries one with them wherever they go. However, will a digital assistant constantly present in our pocket affect our ability to help ourselves? A recent article I read by psychologist Thijs Launspach got me thinking: if the world is designed to help us and cater to our needs whenever we want, will our ability to think for ourselves eventually diminish? Put in other words: will an ‘idiot-proof’ world turn us into idiots?

Over the last decade of using our mobile devices as navigators, calculators, and dictionaries, most people have lost their ability to read maps, to calculate and to spell words correctly. It is not surprising that Dutch kids are getting increasingly worse in spelling compared to two decades ago. In addition, these technologies are increasingly taking our most basic duties off our hands. When you don’t feel like cooking or doing groceries, apps like Uber Eats and Gorillas are just one simple click away from taking over your responsibility. This trend extends beyond the digital world, and can also be perceived in companies. Take a look at booking an appointment at the hairdresser or dentist. While booking, the time and date of your appointment will be repeated at least twice and not only will you receive an email with your booking confirmation, but you will also receive multiple reminders right before the appointment. Though it is understandable that companies use these methods to diminish no-shows, it also depletes people from the opportunity to think for themselves and learn from the potential mistake of missing an appointment. Would it hurt to have the faith that people  are smart enough to be aware of what they are doing? After all, people need to be treated as adults. As Thijs Launspach states: “when you treat your customers as toddlers, don’t be surprised when they start behaving as such”. Apparently, it has become a worldwide standard that companies are making their products and services ‘idiot-proof’. 

Aside from doing the thinking for us, today’s technologies are also making us more detached from reality, leaving little opportunities in which we actually need to look up from our mobile devices. This begs the question if we are actually using modern technology to our advantage, or if we are becoming more dependent upon them. After all, we need a little struggle to advance, as struggle both challenges and teaches us. Triggering our brains to come up with solutions ourselves results in ongoing life lessons, which ultimately make us feel better  after the initial discomfort. Aside from solving this discomfort, mobile devices are also often used to suppress boredom. However, creativity is  known to be born out of boredom, and we do not need to be catered to and entertained constantly to advance as humans.  In fact, people should be encouraged to think for themselves, which ultimately also includes that mistakes will be made. With the summer holiday coming up, in which you will hopefully have more time to yourself, use this article as inspiration to use this time wisely. For instance, bike somewhere without looking at directions first, cook something without a written recipe and allow yourself to be bored. The small mistakes which you will ultimately make will be so worth it, because at least you made them while being conscious and aware.

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