Categorized | Opinion, Viewpoint

Brains and potatoes

By Janice Lindsay

One day in a bookshop, I overheard a six-year-old girl and her four-year-old brother discussing which is better, movies or books. He said movies. She said books. “Movies,” she explained, “turned your brain into a potato.”

We are all in danger of seeing our brains turn into potatoes. But movies alone won’t be responsible. For that, we can thank the advance of technology.

I think about all the things I used to know how to do that I no longer need to know.

When I was a child, I mastered addition pretty easily. But subtraction? Long division? Multiplication? Only my mother’s patient coaching – and her willingness to hear me recite the multiplication table — enabled me to conquer those particular skills. Now I need to know only which buttons to push on my calculator. That’s a few unused brain cells turning into potatoes.

Once, I needed to know how to cook fresh vegetables. Now, I put raw cauliflower in a covered bowl, pop it in the microwave, push the Fresh Vegetables button. Done. Once, I learned how to make bread the old-fashioned way, requiring knowledge of yeast behavior, kneading, and all that. Now I dump the ingredients in the bread machine, push the Start button. Done. My refrigerator makes ice all by itself. I don’t even need to know how to boil water. My plug-in teakettle turns itself off when the water is ready.

I can feel my brain cells shrinking, and mashed potatoes oozing in to fill the empty spaces.

The camera on my smart phone assesses the light, sets its shutter speed and aperture, and focuses itself. I press the button. Done. Taking good photos with actual cameras used to be so complicated, I personally could never figure it out though I used plenty of brain cells trying.  Now, no need to try. Here comes the potato salad.

I know how to shift gears in a car, but my car does it more efficiently than I ever did. I don’t have to pump the brakes if I’m driving on a slippery spot. The car does the break-pumping before I even realize that we’ve hit a slippery spot.

Speaking of cars – I used take pride in my map-reading skills. But who needs maps? That’s what global positioning systems are for.

I don’t even have to know how to scream! If I’m near my car when something bad happens, I hit that magic red button on my key and the car screams louder than I ever could.

There are so many skills we no longer need. And even if we already know how to do them, we don’t have to remember to do them. Clocks remember to change to Daylight Savings Time. Lights remember to turn themselves off when everyone has left the room. Thermostats remember to lower themselves when the room goes dark. Automated cat food dishes remember to feed the cat.

I can feel my brain cells morphing into a substance that looks a lot like scalloped potatoes.

Pretty soon, the only people with non-spud brains will be the tech people who design the technologies. They’re the only people who will ever have to think about anything.

The rest of us, though, do need to know how to do one thing, at least for now: Read. We have to be able to read instructions to figure out which buttons to push. Once we’ve mastered button-pushing sequences, our thinking and learning are over. Potato brain creeps in. It’s fortunate for what is left of our brains that instruction manuals can’t read themselves. Yet.



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