Does Twitter Make Us Stupid Like The Editor Of The New York Times Says?

New technologies do seem to usher in change – at a cost. Job losses due to industries being downsized, more waste, pollution and wars have all been costs of pushing technology forward. But New York Times editor Bill Keller argues that new technology also has intellectual, emotional, and even spiritual costs associated with it… and Twitter is part of the problem.

Keller contemplated our future technological trajectory in his column The Twitter Trap for Sunday’s NYTimes Magazine.

He talks about how we “are outsourcing our brains to the cloud”, and compares the reliance we have on social networks with the advent of Gutenberg’s press – it’s making us stupider.

Of course, Keller is emphatically elegant in his description of how Twitter and Facebook are diminishing our ability to be human: eroding “our ability to reflect, our pursuit of meaning, genuine empathy, a sense of community connected by something deeper than snark or political affinity.”

And just like the advent of the printed page freed up human minds from having to memorize massive tomes of information, so too does Google free up our minds from knowing anything at all (after all, we can always just “Google” it).

Keller pays particular attention to Twitter in his article, and concedes that it is a “brilliant” bit of technology for promotion, information, meet-ups and more. However, he isn’t sure it’s worth the sacrifice of what we’re “unlearning” with each tweet.

Keller paints a persuasive portrait of humanity’s demise at the metallic hands of technology. We’ll lose what makes us human, and become cyborgs, attached to, and dependent upon, the “machine” for providing us with our meaning, rather than exploring inward. We will no longer be connected to others through sight or touch, but rather through a computer screen and a tweet.

This doom-and-gloom outcry has always risen when we undergo a major shift in technology. It’s easy (especially for the editor of a mainstay like the New York Times) to say we want things to stay the same because we’re afraid of the dark unknown before us. But I think technology like Twitter has the chance to bring us closer to our human sides, by pulling together people from all corners of the globe who might otherwise never meet. It also allows for a media refresh, of sorts, as new media outlets – like AllTwitter and the rest of the Mediabistro blog network – are given the ability to interface directly with our readers and circumvent traditional (and more expensive) modes of publication.

Twitter doesn’t reduce our ability to “be human” – it is just another tool at our disposal. We use tools to become more human, I would argue. Baskets allowed us to gather more berries at once and spend more time at home rather than in the forest. Airplanes allowed us to travel farther, faster, and see more of the world we inhabit. Technology is used to enable the human spirit, not to crush it or transform it into something less.