Are computers making us dumb?

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Are computers making us dumb?

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We use computers for everything nowadays. Are we forgetting our own abilities - and losing our talent? Listen to Rob and Neil's discussion, and learn some related vocabulary

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Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript

Rob Hello, I’m Rob. Welcome to 6 Minute English. With me in the studio today is Neil. Hello, Neil.

Neil Hi. Hi Rob!

Rob Are you alright, Neil? Are you playing on your smartphone again, are you?

Neil Err… what was that? Yeah, sorry, Rob… just doing something on my smartphone, you know, the kind of phone which allows you to go online.

Rob Oh I can see that. But are you waiting for a call?

Neil No. No, I just carry it with me at all times. Where I go, the phone goes. No phone, no Neil!

Rob OK, but why do you need your phone so much?

Neil Why?! What if I need to need to go somewhere? How will I find my way? What about the weather? Will it rain today? I need to know these things.

Rob Why don’t you just look up in the sky and see if it is cloudy?

Neil Look up to see if it is going to rain?! I have an app - which is short for an application, which is a computer programme for a specific purpose. My app tells me the weather… and this one does all the maths I need… and here’s one for translations, and this one here… can tell me what I’m going to…

Rob OK, OK, OK, I get the point. Today we’re talking about computers - and we’ll bring you some words connected with the digital age.

Neil Connected - to connect - we use this verb a lot. It means ‘to link, or join, one thing to another thing. In this case, connected means ‘linked to the internet’.

Rob OK, I can see you are very excited about computers. So that’s what my question is all about. The first commercially produced “desktop computer” was designed and produced by the Italian company Olivetti and presented at an event in New York. When did it happen? Was it in:

a) 1955

b) 1965 or

c) 1975

Neil Well, I think it’s (a) 1955.

Rob Very interesting. You’ll get the right answer at the end of the programme. Now, let’s talk about computers. You can’t live without them but American technology writer Nicholas Carr, the author of a book called ‘The Glass Cage - where automation is taking us’, thinks they might cause problems.

Neil Problems?! They cause us problems when they crash - that’s what we say when our computer suddenly stops working.

Rob Well, not just that. Let’s listen to Nicholas Carr. He says if we rely too much on computers we lose something. But what is it?

American technology writer Nicholas Carr The ability of computers to do things we used to do is growing astronomically and we’re rushing to hand over to computers tasks, activities - both in our work lives and in our personal lives - and what you begin to see is what is often called a de-skilling effect. The person becoming reliant on computers; because they are not exercising their own talents , those talents begin to fade. And we begin to lose, as a result, the unique things that human beings can do that computers can’t: feel empathy , take a broad perspective, interpret all the stuff that can’t be turned into data.

Neil According to Nicholas Carr, using computers means that we are losing skills - he talks about ‘de-skilling’. A skill is the ability to do something well because we’ve practised it.

Rob And he also talks about the loss of talent - talent is a natural ability to do something - you didn’t have to learn it, you’re just naturally good at it. It’s something we’re all born with. Carr says that relying on computers means our talent is fading because we don’t use it any more.

Neil And he goes even further and says we’re losing some of the things that make us human, like empathy, the ability to imagine and understand what other people might be feeling.

Rob So, do you agree with this writer, Neil?

Neil I think he’s got a point actually.

Rob It’s like the friendships we make on social media. It is nice to get to know new people in different countries, but we have to remember that it’s important to talk to people face-to-face too.

Neil So… maybe we shouldn’t use GPS to find our way around all the time. GPS, the global positioning system which gives us directions with the help of satellites orbiting the Earth… instead, have a conversation with someone - ask for directions.

Rob Yes, and perhaps we can give the spellchecker a miss occasionally. A spellchecker is a very useful piece of software which helps us avoid making spelling mistakes when we’re typing on a computer but… it is good to actually learn how to spell the words properly and not leave everything to the machine.

Neil Good idea, Rob. I’ll try not to rely so much on digital technology. Computers are here to stay and they’ll become more and more sophisticated, but we have to remember they are just tools.

Rob Yes, computers are here to stay. And by the way, when was the first commercially produced “desktop computer” launched? As I told you, it was designed and created by Olivetti and launched in New York. But when was it launched? Was it: 1955, 1965 or 1975?

Neil And I said 1955.

Rob Perhaps you should ask your smartphone because the correct answer is actually (b) 1965.

Neil I don’t believe it!

Rob The computer was called Programma 101 and it was presented at the New York World’s Fair. They sold 44,000 units all over the world. The initial price in the US was US$ 3,200. Well, we are almost out of time so let’s remind ourselves of some of the words we said today, Neil.

Neil smartphone

app (application)

to connect





GPS (Global Positioning System)


Rob Thank you. Well, that’s it for today. Do log on to - maybe on your smartphone, Neil - to find more 6 Minute English programmes. Until next time. Goodbye!

Neil Bye!

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