The world is dumbing down, people are getting stupid, nobody wants to think for themselves, we want it all handed to us on a plate’¦ these are some of the phrases we hear regularly from the older generation, from our teachers and from the media. But is it actually true? Are we really getting stupider? Do we expect technology to do it all for us, or do we simply have different outlooks and expectations? Here are ten reasons to believe we are not getting dumber.
1. We Worry About Dumbing Down
It may seem a contradiction in terms but so many of us worry about the world dumbing down and the fact that people are noticing it proves that the world, indeed, is not getting stupider. If the world was getting stupider, surely nobody would notice?! Around the western world especially, all generations are seeing and ‘ most importantly ‘ complaining about how television especially is dumbing down to the lowest common denominator. Reality television may have saturated the airwaves, but there is evidence that it is now in decline.
While we are on the subject, while there is still a lot of awful shows made for television, there is also a continuing trend for more intelligent TV shows that really engage the viewer to watch long term. Perhaps beginning with Lost nearly ten years ago, the world has gone crazy for Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones which are not the sort of thing you can half watch, leave for a few weeks, and come back later down the line. Other examples include cerebral European shows like The Returned, The Bridge and The Killing. Even cult British sci fi show Doctor Who has been accused in recent years of being too complex for family viewing.
3. Literacy is Rising
With a global literacy drive, even in the Third World, literacy rates are at an all-time high. World governments have seen the benefits of funding education programmes and in turn, challenging some oppressive regimes through the availability of new information. What’s more, in the supposed dumbed down west, we’re reading more thanks to ebook readers and freely available classic literature. Though hard copy book sales have dropped in recent years, ebook sales are making up for and increasing our consumption of literature’¦ and it isn’t all sales of biographies of Z-list celebs.
4. Depression and Anxiety
Some point to depression as a sign of our more stressful lives, more debt, economic decline and the state of the world but a growing body of evidence in recent years has shown a strong correlation between intelligence and mental illness. Depression, anxiety and other mental maladies are sure signs that people are getting more intelligent, more thoughtful and have heightened levels of awareness.
5. IQ is Rising
Persistently and all around the globe, IQ scores are getting higher. Critics may say that the IQ test itself is flawed, or that it only measures one form of intelligence, but it remains the most popular and effective method of measuring critical skills that indicate intelligence. Exam marks are also rising and though tabloid newspapers are always keen to point out that higher scores can be an indication of easier tests and lower standards, there is no conclusive proof of this.
6. Science is Popular Again!
There has most definitely been a resurgence in the popularity of science in the last few years. In the UK, public figures such as Professor Brian Cox whose series Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe, as well as Alice Roberts The Incredible Human Journey and Ice Age Giants bucked the trend of superficial ‘edutainment’. In North America, 2014 saw new version of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos fronted by popular public science figure Neil Degrasse Tyson. BBC Radio 4 has a popular science based talk show (with lots of humour) named The Infinite Monkey Cage which remains popular. Science is getting sexy again!
If the world was getting dumber, we wouldn’t have the amazing advances in technology that we see practically every day. We would not be finding cures for diseases, we would not be sending probes and messages out into space and we would not even be driving technology forward. It is the older generations that usually say that the world is getting dumber but it isn’t the younger generation that cannot operate this new technology! All joking aside, advances are happening so quickly that the argument can fall on this point alone.
8. Crumbling of Traditional Authority
All over the world, there is a distinct lack of obedience towards the traditional methods of authority: state, religion, the corporate world and society in general. We’re not talking about anarchy here, but an inbuilt mistrust of those who have and seek and have power over us. No longer do we believe the politician when he says he did not lie; no longer do we allow churches to get away with corruption; we boycott businesses and we ask ‘Why? Who benefits?’ when somebody says how we should all act, especially when it is accompanied with ‘that’s how it’s always been’.
9. Religiosity is Dropping
It may be a controversial thing to say, but in the western world strict adherence to religion is dropping. In the last ten years, researchers have found a negative correlation between religiosity and education and between religiosity and IQ. A number of other factors were also taken into account with the religious generally scoring lower IQs; in all studies, atheists on average had higher IQs. There are many variables to examine here including the effect of religious philosophy on education and the desire for education.
10. The Information Age
When it really comes down to it, most of the listed items above are about the widely available information of the internet. While it is true that the democratic nature of the internet is a double edged sword (giving fringe and conspiracy theorists free reign to say anything they can’t support and have thousands of supporters) it also means that people can challenge nonsense. This opens up debate about pseudoscience and encourages most of us to think more critically about what we are being told.
Perhaps in some ways, the instant gratification culture is harming us. Perhaps we are less patient, perhaps we want machines to do our thinking for us, perhaps we are too reliant on technology’¦ but none of this is an indication that we are getting stupider, it means we are looking for greater convenience. The arrival of bronze didn’t make people stupid when they stopped flint knapping, it just made life more convenient and that is one of the things driving technology today.