Digital technology is ubiquitous. We have been increasingly reliant on smartphones, tablets and computers over the past 20 years, and this trend has been accelerating due to the pandemic.

Conventional wisdom tells us that over-reliance on technology may take away from our ability to remember, pay attention and exercise self control. Indeed, these are important cognitive skills. However, fears that technology would supplant cognition may not be well founded.

Technology alters society

Socrates, considered by many to be the father of philosophy, was deeply worried about how the technology of writing would affect society. Since the oral tradition of delivering speeches requires a certain degree of memorization, he was concerned that writing would eliminate the need to learn and memorize.

Plato famously wrote, quoting Socrates:

If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.

This passage is interesting for two reasons. First, it shows that there was an intergenerational discussion concerning the impact of new technologies on the cognitive abilities of future generations. This is still true to this day: the telephone, radio and television have all been hailed as harbingers of the end of cognition.