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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Learned Helplessness

I'm just now getting to write about something I experienced a few weeks ago that caught my attention.

It was something about ME that startled me and made me realize exactly how significant simple, tiny, insignificant, helpful technologies are teaching us to be helpless.

We all use technologies that make our lives easier and simpler. Sometimes those technologies are the phonebooks in our cellphones. Sometimes they're the automatic door openers at the grocery store. Sometimes they're the automatic transmission in our car or the auto-dimmer or the intermittent windshield wiper settings or cruise control or.. or… or.

You get the picture. I use most of these technologies quite frequently. Most of the time I don't even notice that I use them.

What I did notice, though, was not one of these technologies but the absence of one.

A few weeks ago I was attending a meeting in a large public building.
During a break in the meeting I used the rest room.
What caught my attention was that I paused for a fraction of a second wondering why the faucets did not turn on when I put my hand under them. Yes, really. I hand't even looked down at the sink, I just placed my hands under the faucet and expected the faucet to turn on.
The fact that I had to wonder, even if for less than a second, why the water hand;t turned on made me realize that I am being conditioned to be helpless.

This will never happen to me; I think too much. I look around too much. I want to know how EVERYTHING works…. but it could happen (and I am sure it already is) to others.

I am frightened by a world where there are people who are so helpless that they wouldn't know HOW to turn on the water in the public restroom if it didn't have automatic faucets.

You may laugh but I ask you this: how many of the people you contact daily/weekly/monthly/annually could you call if you didn't have the phone book in your cellphone? How many could you email if you lost your PDA (or other contacts list)?

Think back to ten years ago - how different was your list of people you could contact without assistance then?

Now imagine a world 15 years from now when the people who are 15 have NEVER known a time where there were no cell phones…. NEVER known a time where there was no internet…. NEVER known a time with no automatic faucets and toilet flushers…
This will be the time when automatic faucets and toilet flushers are as inexpensive as the manual ones; what will be put into houses automatically?

Now think of a world 30 years from now when the kids born 15 years from now have NEVER known a world where you had to flush the toilet or turn on the faucet yourself.

What will people be able to do for themselves in that world that lies 30 years in our future?


  1. Probably nothing...and there will be an apocalypse of some kind and only those smart enough to figure out how things work will survive. Ever see the movie "Idiocracy"? Watch it. It will scare you into procreating immediately!

  2. I have seen Idiocrity. It does scare me.
    There is a Goth Night near where I live. It is held in one of the dance-floor-rooms of a sports bar.
    The sports bar has MANY TVs (what sports bar doesn't?). Every time I go there a segment of those TVs is playing what I call "Oh, My Balls" (stupid people doing stupid things and getting hurt... usually on bikes, skateboards, motorboats, motorcross bikes, etc) because if Idiocrity.