Get a grip on the real world

Technology is making us stupid. It allows me to write a nonsensical language of my own device and then press ‘spell check’ to make my spelling mistakes and idiosyncratic misuse of grammar completely disappear.

Technology lets me look up the weather forecast on the web instead of sticking my head out the window to see what the wind and clouds are doing.

About a thousand years ago when I was an exchange student my Thai host Mum smacked my legs with a stick for following her round with a note-book trying to write down the recipes for what was to me, crazy exotic food. Her logic was that if I wasn’t prepared to commit them to memory I was only pretending to be interested and therefore I should bugger off out of her kitchen and leave her in peace to cook. I have never forgotten a recipe that I’ve watched a good cook make since. But why would you bother to commit anything to memory or keep in a mind store from which you can later dip and call it ‘common sense’ or ‘general knowledge’? Why would you do that when you have the Internet?

Why bother slowly working on the same recipe over a life time until it’s utterly perfect and then handing it on to someone who’s interested when I can have 7 different mediocre versions of the same thing I can randomly choose from the web? As long as I’m not stuck somewhere without broad-band or there’s a massive power outage that is.

Years ago before iphone apps there were published guides. If you wanted to travel and see lovely things and lonely places and meet truly wonderful locals the first thing you did was to buy a lonely planet guide. You carefully noted all the places that it suggested seeing and then go somewhere entirely different – pick a place on a geographical – not a consumer map and wander there slowly. That way, in South East Asia at least, you could avoid the yoga pant wearing ganja-toking idiots with ridiculously young local girlfriends who were ‘doing’ Asia and a lot of magic mushrooms in between.

The point being that internet lists of things to do, places to eat and stuff to buy are slowly atrophying the muscle of discernment that allows us to make up our own minds about the world around us. We are also developing short term memory loss by constantly having everything on hand. Here’s an experiment: Ask anyone under 24 for their telephone number . Chances are they’ll tell you just as soon as they’ve looked it up on their phone.

Maybe we don’t need to know stuff anymore. Like the educational trend, which reeked of an abdication of all responsibility: the idea that teachers are ‘learning facilitators’ and students just have to know how to find resources and then collate the information. I still think it helps to have a grip on the real world by knowing your coordinates – socially, historically and geographically. Which brings me to GPS. I never tire of the GPS stories my parents, who run a lodge, tell. People who have had their range rovers dragged off beaches by Dad’s fergie tractor because ‘the GPS’ told them that heading into the tide was the correct way to get to a hotel. People who have ended up in Gisborne on their way to the Coromandel. From Auckland. The Italian captain of the cruise liner that ran aground this week insists that according to all the navigational charts and GPS there was not supposed to be any rocks there at all! Those sneaky goddamn heat-seeking rocks! I wonder if at any point, anyone looked out the window and thought ‘that cliff face is bloody close for such a big ship’! Or, if in such a technologically advanced monstrosity, you could see past the casinos and dancing girls to be able to see out any window at all?

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