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Has Digital Technology made us less curious?

using a toy lizard to demonstrate a pendulum

There have been 2 events this week that made me think about digital technology. [Digital Technology in a vague modern term, from smart phones to digital cooking scales].

First I must explain the picture above. This is my attempt at explaining a pendulum to my 11yr old son. He wanted to know why I was going on and on about women’s rights and marches and other womeny things these days, and I was trying to explain that long-term oppression can cause an equally wild reaction. As in the swing of a pendulum. Women have been oppressed for so long, we need revolutionary action (non-violent subversive stitching, is as revolutionary as I get) to get the pendulum swinging against patriarchy. It will swing wildly at first, and then, naturally find its own balance. I believe this of all kinds of oppression fall under Newtons Third Law –For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action. And/or perhaps karma.

The trouble was, he didn’t know what a pendulum was.

How could an 11 year old, my 11 year old, not know what a pendulum was? So I found a ball of string, the nearest possible swinging item, a toy lizard, and I explained a pendulum. Then had to explain how it was used to keep time, then…. he got bored and walked away.

But it got me thinking. For thousands of years, we have known, roughly, how things worked, because they were pedal powered, pulleys and levers, wheels and cogs. Whether we thought about them or not, they were there in the background. We understood pendulums because we could see the clock working, weights because we could see the scales, and hold the weighted pieces in our hands. We measured by our hands, and feet. Now, in just the last 50 years, everything is going digital and electrical. We don’t see now it works. Most of us don’t understand how it works. Thanks to the efficiency of UI and UX, we are becoming less aware of the tools we use every day in our lives. Its becoming smaller and shinier, don’t understand, don’t ask.

screen grab of a tweet about nerbs

The second event that pushed me to sit down and write this post (after months of a blogging hiatus), was a tweet on Twitter. This morning Spoken Nerd posted a pick of their new book, and started a competition, asking tweeters to post a pic of the nerdest thing in the room. Just last week we had had a conversation about the differences between nerd and geeks. My son is a geek, he loves computers, gaming, sci-fi, etc. I am a nerdy geek, I love science and sci-fi and how things work. But did we have anything nerdy in the room? I thought my wine box of rulers was nerdy, but the kid did not. Then I spotted the lizard on the table. Still with the string attached, and it got me thinking. Was the lizard pendulum nerdy? Eventually we decided to take a photo of nerdy books, which are in our Loo Library. This book, if we won it, would be a excellent edition to our collection.

photo of our science, nerdy books in our Loo Library.

Has technology made us less curious about how things work? I realised I’m more of a steampunk nerdy geek. I like cogs and wheels and antique gadgets. I like machines where I can look in and see things moving and working, like my spinning wheel, or my vintage Singer sewing machine. I have vintage/antique cameras. You can see the shutter snap shut, how to roll on the film by hand. I have developed film by hand, I understand the process. Would a modern Nerd find them interesting? Its why I have a Loo Library. Some of them are a bit tongue in cheek, such as ‘Fart Proudly’ by Benjamin Franklin or relaxing such as ‘The Tao of Pooh’ by Hoff. Some of the others are educational, in a fun snippet fact kind of way, such as ‘Learn in the Loo’, and ‘How do you get an Egg in a Bottle and Other Questions’. If I asked my son to read these he wouldn’t, yet…

Science and nerdy things should be just normal part of life, not a specialized interest.

Is digital technology becoming so specialized, that we’ll forget how things work? How can modern day kids be expected to not just learn but be interested in maths and science, when its all done for them in a little shiny box, with a shiny screen, with shiny distractions. If we don’t see these principles, of pulleys and levers, working in our everyday lives, what practical application will they have, so in essence, they will have no meaning, which makes understanding harder. As a kid I used to love taking old broken machines apart. [I’m still obsessed with old clock parts]. I never learned how to put them back together, but I was curious about how they worked. I wanted to understand. If a kid has never seen a pendulum, and isn’t even curious about how it works….

We need to start asking ourselves questions. We have whole heartedly accepted and integrated digital technology into our lives without asking ourselves questions. I want to start asking myself questions. Here are a few to start with, I’m sure I’ll come up with more.

  1. Does it arouse curiosity?
  2. Is it useful?
  3. Does it grow or hinder our understanding of the world?
  4. Is it environmentally safe?










  • Reply Rosemary |

    You are so right!
    My father, a farmer, bought himself a little tractor when he retired. And a 40ft container into which he put lights, water, a lathe an lots of other stuff for fixing machines and making rudimentary furniture. He spent many happy hours under the bonnet of that tractor. It was not unusual for him to drive it to the local village and have lunch :). It is still at home. He knew how everything worked and was passionate about good tools and implements. His work was not elegant but it would outlast him. Before he died, we were lamenting that if some tiny thing broke on a car now, you had to buy a whole half side of car to fix it.
    And of course, at the other end of the scale, you have the likes of Apple purposely wrecking your stuff with upgrades……. :(. I am slowly weaning myself off Apple and it is surprisingly easy – I have grown to dislike every Apple product I have.

    • Reply admin |

      Very true Rosemary! There was always someone in every community who would be the fixer, the tinkerer, for precious and expensive electronic items. A trip to the recycling centre and dump, will show you exactly the level of care we are taking with our things. I hate upgrades! You finally get to grips with one style/programme and then they go and change it!! Where possible I try to use open source, and support as many independent thinkers and makers as possible. We could so much more with the technology we have already, this obsession with smaller and better has to stop.

So, what do you think ?