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Are We Losing Our Ability to Think Critically?

By Samuel Greengard

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 52 No. 7, Pages 18-19

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Computer technology has enhanced lives in countless ways, but some experts believe it might be affecting people's ability to think deeply.

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Something is more needed to do to face the challenge of Computer, vedio games and Internet to adversely unaffect the way we must think critically and creatively.
--P R Ambedkar


Critical thinking skills are deteriorating because our plastic brains develop in response to needs. As public schools continue to be content rather than reasoning based, and positive adult role modelling and environmental interaction decrease, critical thinking skills in children will continue to deteriorate. Reinforce that with the immediate gratification of scanning short texts as teenagers and too much information to efficiently handle as adults and this situation will continue to get worse - to society's detriment. Fortunately neuroplasticity programs such as Combat Brain Training (originally developed for the military where critical thinking is a life or death issue)are becoming available to the general public. These techniques can make positive changes in thinking skills using methods any age can perform but it takes work. Because we learn best "analog" (multiple sensory inputs) but digital is so much easier, in the end, the question won't be if this negative trend can be reversed, but will anyone expend the effort necessary to do it?

CACM Administrator

The following letter was published in the Letters to the Editor in the December 2009 CACM (http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2009/12/52828).
--CACM Administrator

Samuel Greengard's news story "Are We Losing Our Ability to Think Critically" (July 2009) is inspiring as a basis for future work. I am coordinating an interdisciplinary seminar on the collective construction of knowledge (http://seminario.edusol.info in Spanish), including two topics Greengard might be able to bridge: One is free software in a democratic society, inciting people to be more politically active and involved, despite being (usually) independent of political parties and other traditional means of shaping society. The other is how motivation and peer-recognition function in these communities; such free-culture communities have much in common with scientific communities, despite starting off with completely different motivations.

My generation (born in the 1970s), including many people in the free software movement, has directly experienced the great shift computing and networking have brought the world, fully embracing the technologies. The greatest difference between people who are just users of computing and those striving to make it better depends on who has the opportunity to appropriate it beyond, say, the distraction level, the blind Google syndrome, or the simple digestion of "piles of data and information [that] do not equate to greater knowledge and better decision making."

Thanks to Greengard for sparking some useful thoughts.

Gunnar Wolf
Mexico City

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