Opinion: Technology and the human brain

In this image taken from a video advertisement, a hydraulic press crushes an array of creative instruments. The newly-released ad promoting Apple’s new iPad Pro has struck quite a nerve online.

In this image taken from a video advertisement, a hydraulic press crushes an array of creative instruments. The newly-released ad promoting Apple’s new iPad Pro has struck quite a nerve online. Apple VIA ap

Jean Stimmell photo

Jean Stimmell photo Jean Stimmell photo


Published: 05-18-2024 6:00 AM

Jean Stimmell, retired stone mason and psychotherapist, lives in Northwood and blogs at jeanstimmell.blogspot.com

Is technology crushing human creativity? That was the question asked in the May 11 article in the Concord Monitor about a recent Apple ad: “The ad, which was released by the tech giant Tuesday, shows a hydraulic press crushing just about every creative instrument artists and consumers have used over the years — from a piano and record player, to piles of paint, books, cameras and relics of arcade games. Resulting from the destruction? A pristine new iPad Pro.”

This is another salvo in technology’s quest, which I’ve written about before, to turn us from flesh-and-blood humans into machines. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t shun high tech. I rely on Google to research my articles and Adobe Lightroom to edit my photographs more stunningly than I could ever do in my old darkroom in the cellar.

But it comes at a price. I can see more clearly now how technology is trying to sweet talk me down alien rabbit holes inhabited not by Beethoven or Rumi but by robots on an assembly line.

Having this insight is one of the unheralded beauties of growing old. My body no longer tries to keep pace with the lightning speed of today’s world because it can’t. Let off the hook, it now meanders along at the unhurried gait of a contented tortoise.

As my body slows down, so does my mind because, of course, they are two parts of the same thing. I find myself abandoning the pressure cooker of modern life to lose myself in reverie, a way of being praised by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, who put imagination above science. When you enter such a state, he observed, it is as if “we are standing before a great lake…and suddenly we are returning to a distant past. We dream while remembering. We remember while dreaming… The little becomes big.”

Harnessing the mind and body in effortless reverie has amazing benefits. That’s because, according to Rebecca Solnit in “A Field Guide to Getting Lost,” “the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour.” If so, then the techno-speed of modern life is more apt to cause a nervous breakdown than a sense of well-being.

Solnit is one of the most brilliant public intellectuals of our time. With the wisdom of old age, I now can clearly see she is right. The brain moves at the same speed as me trundling down to the mailbox, not the gigabit pace that Apple is trying to sell you on with its new iPad Pro.

The way my brain works should have been obvious to me long ago because of how I work, still writing the first draft of my essays in longhand on old-fashioned paper. Putting down my first thoughts is the creative part of what I do, and it doesn’t tolerate the clacking keyboard and flashing screen of my laptop. For me, using the computer would be like trying to listen to an album at 78 revolutions per minute that was meant to be played on a long-playing 33rpm phonograph.

Perhaps that’s what the wisdom of old age really means. Our minds have finally slowed down to the natural cadence of Mother Nature.

For much of human evolution, we were reminded daily of our limitations because death was ever-present. In our limited time here, we stayed in the present, paying homage to our living Earth.

Then, starting a few thousand years ago, we started augmenting our frail human condition with technological improvements, which have puffed us up until we have fooled ourselves into believing we are all-powerful. But, underneath we remain the same impulsive, shortsighted tribal members we have always been.

Sadly, technology has allowed us to reach beyond our physical limitations before we have developed the spiritual and moral capability to use it wisely. If we don’t change, it is going to end badly.