Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Low gravity environment

One of the core missions of NHS is to use antiquated technology 'at sea' to develop teamwork and leadership skills.  This we accomplish with our small boats, a mission we will someday expand to Hornet.  Putting participants in an open boat with no engine and forcing them to be reliant on their own abilities to get underway and return safely is rather startling, too.  It has the effect of peeling back that blanket of security most people have in their daily routines and modern technology, leaving most feeling a little vulnerable.  And that's where the education starts - building up from the base of core abilities as individuals, and coming together as a team in a foreign, and highly demanding environment.

But it has another effect as well - it makes people think about the technology they rely on every day.  Some hearken back with anecdotes of the days before cell phones and the internet.  And after a while one question always comes up - as technology makes life, and information, more convenient, are we getting dumber, or perhaps worse, lazier?

Some time ago, I came across the picture above, and I've been thinking about that concept ever since.

The early manned space program occurred at a time when machines were still being operated largely by people who weren't entirely reliant on them for cognitive problem-solving.  Slide rules required the user to be able to perform at least some computations without it, and by and large problems were worked out on blackboards and on paper.  The user had a much greater comprehension of what was actually going on, a more rudimentary grasp of the concepts involved.  I'd like to think of this as a 'high-gravity' environment - where much falls to the individual and the team to accomplish - cognitively - than to the machine.  In today's 'low-gravity' environment, the reverse is true.  And it certainly has some derogatory effect on our performance.

Try basic navigation and spatial orientation:
I went my whole life looking at maps and finding my way. I have a long, long history of reaching my destinations, whether on foot, by boat, or by car. I looked at a map, related it to the world around me, and found my way. All too often, navigation today is handed off to a machine. Many motorists can't make sense of a basic road map, or estimate the distance between two points on a printed page. They are lost if their machine loses touch with the satellites.
Damned Garmin.
Seems a bit removed from a nautical argument until you realize how reliant we are on GPS at sea - to the point that celestial navigation isn't taught or practiced with any regularity in the Navy anymore.

Then, consider short- and long-term memory.  Data overload does significant damage, and I know I have trouble remembering phone numbers since they've been stored in a cell phone or PDA.

How about social skills?

The downside to the Internet is that it literally makes us lazy. The best example of our laziness is inability to communicate face-to-face. The norm typically involves social networking web sites like myspace or facebook. Not only are people obsessed with the number of friends they have, but these sites create huge distractions. Chandler states, "These sites have become distractions to our everyday lives. They keep people from doing what they're supposed to do and have ultimately replaced face-to-face socializing." Not having face-to-face interaction is a huge loss for our social skills.

There are others - too many to post here, both serious and jovial.  But the fact of the matter is, getting back to rudiments is going to be a key part of correcting these growing problems.  And while I'm not advocating that we give up on technology altogether, maybe focusing on a reasonable balance might be in order.

Hang on, a new i-something is coming out - I need to go.


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