How being ‘smart’ makes you dumb

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How being ‘smart’ makes you dumb

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Nowadays, “smart” is the hot buzzword. Your phone has to be a smartphone, and smart TV has become the new norm. The definition of “smart” is “having quick intelligence or ready mental capability.” In the digital era, the word has evolved to refer to the ability to be controlled by an electronic or computer device. Weapons remotely guided by computers are “smart weapons,” and a building managed by an electronic system is a smart building.

Sejong City has a smart school that will mostly serve the children of government officials. It is a dream school with all the benefits of technology. Each classroom is equipped with a 72-inch electronic blackboard and an electronic teacher’s desk with a built-in personal computer. Students will be given a “smart pad” that works like a tablet PC. When the teacher writes on the blackboard, the text will appear on the smart pad, and students’ questions and answers will be automatically sent to the blackboard. The students will carry nothing but the smart pad to school. There will be no need for a backpack. But will the smart school make students any smarter? Maybe not, if the Waldorf School of the Peninsula is any indication.

The school is located in Silicon Valley, the center of the IT industry in the U.S. Most students are the children of employees at IT companies such as Apple or Google. Contrary to expectations, there are no computers at this school, and students are not allowed to carry mobile phones or tablet PCs. Instead, each classroom library has a set of encyclopedias. The majority of graduates, 94 percent, go on to college, and many are accepted to the most prestigious schools.

Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist and the director of the Interaction and Experience Research Group at Intel Labs, says that creative ideas are born when the brain is bored. Instead of being pressured to be productive all the time, Bell recommends checking e-mail only at a predetermined time, having a space at home free of electronics and unplugging on vacation.

It is nearly impossible to live without any IT device in the digital era. However, excess is always a problem. Maintaining a balance between a digital and analog life is the key. You can send your kids to the smart school, but at least for the weekend, you may want to shut yourself off from the smart world and be intentionally “dumb.” Turn off the computer and move away from the television. Sit back and relax with your children, read a book, talk with each other.


by Bae Myung-bok

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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