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Often, we see people dining at restaurants staring at their smart-phones instead of talking to others sitting at their table. Only now and then, the smart-phone holders show something they consider interesting to the others at their table. These are the same people that just ten years ago used to enjoy carrying on a conversation. How is it possible that so much social change has happened in such a short time? It looks like people enjoy the physical vicinity of others but prefer not sharing their intellectual occupation with them. Because of this social change, these are the questions we have to ask ourselves--- Why, so quickly, did a billion people, of so many different cultures all over the world, change their lifestyle? Are the smart phones making us more ignorant?

In recent decades, a number of sites have vied for the title of "earliest human-controlled fire". In Kenya, small patches of reddened soil were found in areas containing stone tools up to 1.5 million years old. To prove that Early Stone Age campfires caused the discoloration, researchers used techniques such as magnetic susceptibility analysis and thermo luminescence dating. The first test detects burned earth by gauging fluctuations in its magnetic field; the second determines how long ago an object was heated by fire. Therefore, more than a million year ago, early humans used to live in these caves together with thirty or forty members. Since they could not speak any languages they spent most of the evenings by the light of the fire probably doing tasks for the next day's activities or the next season. I imagine that women would cook or make things to wear from hides and men would stoke the fire or make weapons for the next day's hunt. During the evenings, they enjoyed the cozy comfort of the physical presence of other beings but rarely engaged in the same intellectual activity. Then, about one hundred thousand years ago, some people developed a gene that made it easy for them to start formulating words and a more sophisticated way of communicating was initiated. The people with these genes   were so popular that in a short time everybody could speak.         Just a few thousand years ago, people lived in villages and we have the first story tellers. Homer, in ancient Greece, was one of them. Now and then, the Greeks would sit together listening to the story tellers and by doing so they would enjoy the physical presence of other people while they shared the same intellectual stimulations. Later, other forms of similar entertainment came along such as plays, concerts and movies.

What gets my attention the most is the era of early TV in the 50's and 60's. This was the time when there were only a few channels to watch and no remote control to make changing programs easy. This was the time, when all the family, day after day, would be sitting in the living room watching the same shows. During this period, that lasted about thirty years, people, daily, enjoyed the physical presence of others and, at the same time, they shared the same intellectual stimulations.

Then with the advent of the remote controls, the cable TV, and the hundreds of channels to choose from, there was a certain level of unhappiness developing in the group. There were too many choices for everyone to agree upon and the guy with the remote control in his hand ruled without mercy. Then came the advent of the smart-phones, and now it is not unusual, when a group of people gathers in the family room, to see one or, maybe, two people watching TV and the others looking at their smart-phones. Again, like a million years ago, people are still enjoying the physical presence of others, otherwise they would move to a different room in the house, but each individual is stimulated by a different intellectual activity.  This could be compared to the same feeling of comfort experienced by pet owners when they are near their dogs or cats.

We can say, that families, only for a very short period, experienced common stimulation of their brain in their living room. This explains how fast, a billion people all over the world have changed their behavior. People are now going back to the same habits they had developed over that long period of a million years.

As for the question of whether we are becoming more ignorant, this is my thinking. The smart-phones, with their capability to have access in microseconds to just to about all the knowledge that mankind has created over the ages, give the impression that studying any given subject is a waste of time. It is true that we can expand our knowledge if, when we do a search on the internet, we decide to spend a considerable amount of time on any specific subject. But most of us spend only a few seconds looking up an answer to satisfy our curiosity and the information received is quickly forgotten. Moreover there is a need for a good foundation to enable us to expand our knowledge. This foundation can only be acquired by being a student in a good school system. Knowledge and reasoning require a correlation among many different notions and any fact standing on its own can be only useful in a trivia contest. History, arts, science and all the other humanities are strictly intertwined. They are like small rivers merging into a big river and the big river becomes our newly acquired awareness preventing us from acting solely on our primeval   instincts. By comparison, the information gathered quickly on the internet is like drops of rain falling on the desert, incapable of flowing together and destined to dry up under the rays of the sweltering sun. This is one of the reasons why a civilized country needs a good quality and affordable public school system.



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