Dumbing Down

Dumbing down first became popular in the entertainment industry during the 1930s.  It was a term first used by screenwriters to make an idea so simple that people with limited education or experience could comprehend it.  Later it came to mean a deliberate oversimplification of any given subject.  Most of us senior citizens remember MAD Magazine and its fictitious mascot and cover boy, Alfred E. Newman.  Alfred helped us come to grips with the concept of ‘dumbing down’ by our repeating his iconic saying, “What me worried!” 

What me worried’ is a perfect segue into the technological revolution that the world is currently experiencing.  We are undergoing what scientists are telling us is the ultimate dumbing down of a people group and at a rate unparalleled in history.  Fortunately, we do not have to worry about it because soon, there will be an app available that will make the necessary adjustments for us. Feeling a bit confused, do not worry; I will make this simple enough for everyone to understand.  For example, technology has stopped us from having to think, at least on any deep level.  There was a time when technology was so primitive that it required us to memorize an amazing amount of numbers or ‘heaven forbid’ to thumb through what people called a ‘phone book’ to reach someone.  Now we can push an app or speak into a mic, and instantly be connected to the person.  Often with little effort on the part of our brains. 

We are relinquishing our ability to think, giving it over to a machine. Our overreliance on computers and search engines has weakened our long-term memory skills, and as some scientists are now suggesting, is opening us up for dementia’s.  As one scientist said, “We are supposed to be building memories in our brains, not on our phones.” It is not surprising to learn there is an addictive tendency to it all, causing us to rely more on our technological devices such as our A.I. to do our thinking for us.  Perhaps that is why we are cautioned in Romans 12:2,Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will”.

How we think and the choices we make define who we are and have the power to shape who we will become.  Even though we can point to our physical brain’s location, our brain does not control us.  The mind controls our brain, which is interesting since we cannot point to its physical location.  Think of it this way, you can have ‘brain surgery,’ but no one has ever had ‘mind surgery.’ The brain reacts to a situation by using patterns formed by repetitive memories that have become so deeply entrenched that it becomes easy to accomplish.

Look at grade schools where children are taught the three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic), OK, so only one starts with an R, but you get my drift.  We all know how essential arithmetic is, and as much as our teachers chastised us for using our fingers to aid us in counting, many students can now use a calculator in class.  And don’t even let me get started on how frustrating it is watching a store clerk try to give us change if the bill is $9.63 and you hand them a Ten-dollar bill along with 63 cents.  After a while, you do not know whether to cry or confuse them even more by telling them to keep the change.  Why?  Because then they will think you may be trying to cheat them. 

Our brain does not like it when it must solve a problem that it has not encountered before.  It will often use a shortcut in its thinking process and go with what worked previously.  It will do this even if in doing so it has to change the original meaning you intended.  This shortcut reminds me of how spellcheck will often correct our spelling by replacing the word we intended to use with a word that means something entirely different.  But at least it is spelled correctly.  The concept that it could end up disastrous or merely wrong does not enter in as a possibility.  Unless we regularly are exercising our minds, our brains will become lazy and our hearts will be in danger of becoming defiled.  It may be hard to believe, but our brain can become defensive and arrogant and not want to be bothered with doing something that requires too much effort. Perhaps this is why Jesus emphasized in Luke 6:45, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of .” 

Listening to someone who is playing an instrument exceptionally well is a great experience.  However, the person did not start that way, no matter how naturally talented they are.  It takes practice to make the necessary memory links needed for the brain to remember how to play the score with flawless precision.  Thinking takes effort, and a lazy mind finds it difficult to fight its way through if the workload is too heavy.  Learning how to play music means we must follow the rules and be intentional in learning how to master the skills necessary to produce quality music correctly. In that case, everything else we put into our brains needs the same level of deliberate learning.

I admit that there have been occasions when someone will ask me for my home phone number, (a number usually associated with a ‘land line’ separate from your cell phone number) and I cannot remember what it is.  Why? The only excuse I can come up with is, “How many times do I call myself at home anyway!” But what happens when your task is not remembering your telephone number but a moral issue or a safety issue?  So, what if our brains are a tad bit lazy and our attempts at doing something new involves us having undivided concentration for us to execute it successfully.  We all know that the more we do something, the easier it becomes.  Soon a pattern emerges, and our brain files it away in our memory where we can quickly and easily access it.  Soon we realize that we can do it without even thinking.  We do it much like we are on autopilot.  This is not a problem if it is the same event, but a lazy brain will not look very closely at what is coming and not realize they are attempting to put a round peg into a square hole.  For instance, how many times have you driven somewhere, and in the process, you realize that you went blocks if not miles, not thinking about the route and traffic but thinking about something other than focusing on the road ahead?  This only works when nothing out of the ordinary happens.  But when a car runs a red light or someone backs out of an alley, we see how quickly disaster can strike when we are not paying attention. 

It looks like technological advancement, as incredible as it may seem at the time, doesn’t necessarily mean that we are personally advancing.  Paul encourages us to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Why must we take our thoughts captive? Because as a man thinks in his heart, so he is (Proverbs 23:7).  This year has been wrought with conflict from the election to the pandemic.  If there was ever a time when we needed to soak our mind, heart and body in the peace of God now would be that time.

Our prayer for you is that those things which are contrary to our Lord and King will be exposed so that “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds.” (Philippians 4:7) May we find our answers in Him and may our hearts be set on Jesus, the mediator between God and men. (1 Tim. 2:5) Do not let your hearts be troubled.” (John 14:1)

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