Home Opinion and Features The perils of putting your trust in technology

The perils of putting your trust in technology


OPINION: One can really admire how quickly the young folk can access information on their smart devices these days; their research skills have the potential to make the ou ‘toppies’ and ‘tannies’ look lekker dom!

Picture: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I AM ALWAYS amazed at how “know-it-all” youngsters can be. Children between four and eight seem to believe that they know everything, and they are supremely confident in that knowledge, even if they have to create facts to suit their narratives.

We all know that from two till four they ask questions, with the most often repeated question being “why?”

Then, when we humans get into our teens, we know EVERYTHING! Adults dare not challenge us, because what they do not realise is at that age we are running on hormones and dark energy! I remember thinking, “How dare the adults try to question my judgement?”

But as we mature, the hormones are diluted with tears of experience and we become more mellow, more open to other opinions and inputs.

Mark Twain must have had that experience, because he is credited with writing: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

And these days the youth are even “wiser Wisenheimers” thanks to the time they spend on their devices, or should I refer to it as their portable brains? After all, why memorise anything these days when you have a device in your pocket?

One can really admire how quickly the young folk can access information these days; their research skills have the potential to make the ou “toppies” and “tannies” look lekker dom!

I mean, even I, that’s further along to one end of the age spectrum – I won’t say which end – get excited when I learn a new hack on the World Wide Web. There’s a plethora of information out there waiting to be mined.

The other day I was thrilled to learn a method of keeping your bathroom mirror from steaming up after a shower. This is a hack I needed, because just the previous weekend, when I wanted to take my evening shower the water in our suburb was off. This led to me having to shower and shave the next morning before church. Of course after a hot shower I couldn’t see my reflection as I shaved so I had to guess where the stubble was.

Later on, when I got home after church and eventually looked into the mirror, I noticed the strands and tufts that I had missed.

Therefore you can perhaps imagine how thrilled I was to learn that using car wax on your bathroom mirror rendered it fog-free even in a steamy bathroom. And I eagerly experimented with the timely advice that night.

The next morning, as I gazed at my strands, stubble and tufts, I reminded myself that not all advice to be found online should be taken to heart … which reminds me, I shared a tip with some friends on how to remove highlighter markings from your books using lemon juice and a cotton bud; the problem is that I got this advice from the same source as the fog free mirror, and maybe it doesn’t work!

When I was just a young lad, our Dad had a book that he kept handy. The title of the book was: ENQUIRE WITHIN UPON EVERYTHING, first published in 1856 by Houlston and Sons in London. The book was, as it were, the Victorian Age’s answer to the Internet, containing everything from recipes, to cleaning tips, to how to play games and much, much more!

Because you could find everything in this book, my siblings and I would constantly page through the volume, partly for the page after page of interesting tips, but also because on the top of each page was a clever aphorism.

For example, atop page 275 you’d read: “Morning for work, evening for contemplation”. Page 210 had “If you are in debt, somebody owns part of you” and on page 321 there is, “Perseverance is the bridge by which difficulty is overcome.”

The fact is, the book has over 400 pages, each with its gem of wisdom at the top of the page.

Now, the “wisdom” of this book was compiled, checked and verified by peers, so at the time of its circulation the information was priceless.

These days, however, a lot of the information therein is redundant and outdated, and I guess that’s why the Internet holds the upper hand … even though some of the facts on the Web may be dodgy.

And, by the way, it’s not only the dodgy facts and hacks that could present a problem these days! Smartphones, for example, could scupper simple mathematics.

For example, go to any old “gryskop” you come across and ask them to mentally do the following sum: 2+2×4, chances are they will give you the answer 16. Next, get a calculator, a dedicated, old fashioned, battery-operated calculator and do the same sum … it’ll be 16 again.

Now take your smartphone, find your calculator and do the sum again. Then ask yourself how you got to the answer 10?

For the record, the answer 10 is not incorrect, it’s just that a smartphone calculator will multiply first (2×4), then add two, giving you 10, while humans and calculators calculate on the fly: 2+2=4 multiplied by 4 equals 16!

And therein lies an interesting problem; the over-reliance on technology.

These days more and more people are leaning – more and more – on Artificial Intelligence (AI), without taking into account that AI is still a young technology, and like a precocious four-year-old it will give you all the relevant facts, even if it has to make up some of those facts to sound clever.

Put another way, being new technology, all the bugs have not been ironed out of AI bots – as impressive as they seem – so trusting the bots for your homework or varsity assignments, or for that urgent report at work is not advisable, unless you take the time to go over the report or assignment with a fine-tooth comb.

After all, you wouldn’t want to be so blinded by the smoke and mirrors of AI that you find yourself handing in your work, not realising that there are “tufts” and “stubble” all over the page.

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