Saving Humanity: Literacy vs. Electracy

As a 22-year old millennial, I often wonder how technology will influence my life next. Unlike the generations before us, my peers and I are not threatened by the change that our iPhones and smart cars impose on our lives. I’m wondering, though, if we should think more critically about the implications of a digital world. Did you know that some experts are predicting that robots will take over 30% of our jobs by 2025? Or that researchers anticipate human levels of intelligence in robots by 2029? Other than taking our jobs and becoming more and more”human,” what are the other implications of robots on humanity?

“So, you remember the days when this library was the only way to learn about the world?”

That’s a quote from a heartwarming and transfixing movie called Robot & Frank that I was reminded of when I read Gregory Ulmer’s book Internet Invention and Nicholas Carr’s article Is Google Making Us Stupid? In the movie, set not so far in the future, an elderly man, Frank, is a subject of amazement for a young entrepreneurial billionaire who builds virtual libraries. The young man asks Frank what it was like to read words on a page. You see, the young man is electrate, as Gregory Ulmer explains in his article, and Frank is literate.

Ulmer explains that electracy is now taught, just as literacy is taught, but that they are two separate things. The young man has never read an entire book, and Frank can hardly operate the internet phone his children bought. I think that Carr would have no trouble imagining that this fictional scenario has already become reality.

We are living in a revolutionary time. The web is constantly being developed, and every day it becomes capable of mimicking and, therefore, eliminating some other tool we once relied on. Now, Carr says, “media supply the stuff of thought;” they decide what we think about. He cites the claims of Google’s creators. They set out to create a search engine “as smart as people—or smarter.”

I can’t help but wonder: does improving intelligence outside of ourselves imply that our own intelligence is being replaced?
Are we becoming like the machines we design? This loss—no, this abandonment—of our selves is tragic. However, I believe we can choose to study human thought just as rigorously as we study technological advancement. We can decide to value human nature more than we value the technology we create. 

Thoughts? Are you worried about robots taking your job and other implications of robots on humanity?