Monday, December 11, 2006

Are We Getting Dumber?

It seems to me people used to be a lot smarter. I'm reading the rise and fall of Alexandria and those people back then were pretty darn clever. Back around 500 B.C., Eratosthenes hired a guy to step off the distance between Syene and Alexandria and then at high noon on the Summer Solstice he measured the length of a shadows cast by a stick. He then took out his pencil and a piece of paper and calculated that the earth must be about 25,000 miles in circumference. He didn't have a computer, he didn't have a calculator....he used his head. He was so close the the actual circumference that he could smell the barn.
It was not uncommon for these guys to debate ethics, politics and health. They did geometry and calculus for fun. No surfing the web or Googling facts about geography or history for was off to the library of Alexandria and reading through scrolls to find the information they wanted.
I read somewhere that less than three percent of the population of the U.S. have library cards. We get our news from thirty second sound bites on CNN or Fox News and we feast on the latest celebrity gossip. We can name all the American Idol winners, but we struggle all the states and capitols and with American history.
I really don't think those folks 2500 years ago were actually smarter than we are today, but I do think we are much more distracted. We've become used to technology and as a result, we are somewhat lazy.
I've made a commitment to myself to read more and watch less TV. The next time I have to do a simple calculation I'm going to use a pencil and piece of paper. I'm going to spend a little time each day thinking about things I've never thought of before.

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