For the first time since graduate school, I had to read a research article. One with a hypothesis, methods, data collection, standard deviation, histograms and everything. And if I want to be opposite of the prose in this research article, I’ll say, it was rough.
It probably didn’t help that I started reading this lengthy article at 10 pm at night or that I was doing it while sitting on the couch with The Office on in the background. Now, nothing against The Office, I think Steve Carrell is on his own level of genius, but watching TV probably isn’t the best thing to do to while also in the grips of intellectual pursuits. Do most people worry about getting dumber? Are the things we surround ourselves with, may I go so far as to say the people we surround ourselves with, making us dumber?
I’ll say yes. For two reasons.
Education and relationships.
It’s weird to think that education makes us dumber, and I don’t totally believe that, so let me clarify. The type of education or the way that you learned how to learn in school: here is Material A, memorize it, spit it out on the test, here is Material B, and repeat, makes us dumber. Material B never had anything to do with Material A so there was no point in storing it in your brain. After all, you can just look it up on the internet or it didn’t even matter if you forgot it, because no one uses the Quadratic Formula in real life anyway (except for my engineer husband). If you had one of those awesome teachers in school that “made learning fun” and had interactive lesson plans, and learning was an active process of discovery rather than a passive “shove down your throat” lecture, then you are lucky! But for those of us that didn’t, learning was a chore and provided no intrinsic value, which is a value we carry into adulthood.
Fast forward ten years and tell me there are no more tests, no more disappointed stares from parents, or no threats of not getting into college; and I’ll tell you that I am done learning! This is because the love for learning is smoldered by formal education. As kids we are born discoverers and investigators, asking “why” every other sentence and demanding explanations for the ways things act around us, but somewhere along the line, that sense of nonjudgmental confusion is lost.
The second reason is relationships. It is only natural to learn things about the people we spend most of our time with. In other words, when we get to know people, we discover what they know. This is a great survival technique, if I have a hunter, a gatherer, a gardener and a leader in my tribe, then I can focus my efforts on what I am good at, sewing animal hides to make fashionable clothing. I have a role, and the tribe needs me for that role, thus my survival is secured. Fast forward a couple thousand years and this principle remains the same. I don’t have to learn how to make graphics for my website because I have a friend that does that. I don’t need to learn how to change the oil in my car, because I have a mechanic who does that. I don’t need to remember the Quadratic Formula, because I have a husband for that. Based on who we surround ourselves with, our need for learning changes. If I surround myself with comedians, chances are, I don’t have to worry about feeling embarrassed about not knowing the Quadratic Formula when it comes up in conversation.
If I take my Netflix time and devote it instead to being curious about what I can learn from research articles, I would bet I would have a easier time getting through one (education) . If I talk with a friend about what I learned and we had a meaningful, deep conversation about it, that would make me want to read more (relationships).
But I didn’t. At least not yet. I finished the episode of The Office and went to bed.