Spell Check and GPS – The Dumbing of America

Conciousness? Consiousness?? Consciousness??? Consciousnes???? Conceisness?????


I know that other countries have GPS systems as well, and their own language Spell Check, but the title is more powerful this way.  Need I say more than this? Of course I do – I like to complain.

I used to be an amazing speller in Hebrew, which is no miracle since it’s my mother’s tongue.  Actually, hers was Polish and Yiddish, but then again, it sounds better.   In any event … as an immigrant I was always so proud of my English spelling. There were few native speakers who spelled better than I did.

No more.

The other day, I spelled the word consciousness, and I spelled it incorrectly. You might feel forgiving about misspelling such a long word, but seriously, do you have any idea how often I use this work at work? It would be like a surgeon not knowing how to spell scalpel.  (I actually don’t care if he/she cannot spell it as long as they know how to use it.)

Thankfully, spell check pointed my attention to it, so I immediately corrected it without anyone seeing me blush. Moreover, this is not the only word I once knew how to spell but now misspell. The list is growing.  I’ve noticed that in the last 10-15 years my spelling skills have deteriorated.  One could blame it on advanced age and diminished gray matter. I doubt it.

Spell check is making me dumb.

Even though it comes in handy, spellcheck is a memory-killer.  It was a pain in the a– back when I used a dictionary to check my spelling. I had to go to another room; get the heavy dictionary out; sort through the pages and (hopefully) find the word.  Then, I would use a mnemonic device to help me remember it again, so to avoid going through this tedious chore repeatedly.  Spellcheck, on the other hand is everywhere. It’s great, it’s so useful and handy and my brain is atrophying all the while.

Oxford University Press Museum: Oxford English...


Dumbing Down Part II – The GPS

Mobiles Navigationssystem

GPS is a whole other matter. GPS was invented by the gods specifically for me. There must have been a very special day when the gods stopped frolicking and tossing rose petals in the air – and said to one another, “Let’s do something nice for Rachel!”.

And why, you might ask yourself, were the gods being so considerate?

Perhaps being gods, they watched me during an officers’ training course on navigation; and later they heard my commanding officer mockingly telling our platoon, “Rachel will easily get us to Syria.”  Even then, Syria was not a good place for your average Israeli to be marching!  Trust me, a compliment it wasn’t! Fortunately, my ego wasn’t invested in being Columbus, even if I did eventually end up in America.  In any event, I gleefully admitted that someone else should take the lead when it comes to navigation.

English: Road sign in Syria showing directions...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or maybe the gods remembered when my GF and I decided to be adventurous and take our children to Orlando for a fun-filled adventure; and how, after renting a car, we almost ended in Cuba instead of Disney World?  To add insult to injury, my 13 years old son, who’d never touched a steering wheel in his life, ended up being our navigator.

The Only Highway Sign That Makes Me Smile


So the GPS is indeed godsend.  In spite of my crippled sense of direction, it might surprise you to know that I knew how to read a map when I started driving here.  Even if I wasn’t exactly Marco Polo, I honestly assure you – there was a time when I was a good map reader!

Of course, nowadays, nobody needs to read a map to ‘navigate’.

So what’s going to happen to that part of the brain previously devoted to spelling and navigation, the part that is probably atrophying? I’m not a neuroscientist, but maybe in a few hundred generations some new and currently unknown skill will develop in these now-deteriorating neurological regions.

And I didn’t even start with speed dial, which I love, and didn’t use it in my title because it would make it too long.  But, if you take my cell phone away, I wouldn’t even know how to call my sons! And I’m not making it up – this had really happened!

One day I drove to Ventura to meet my son at a restaurant but, mid-way, I realized I didn’t know its address and my cell phone froze.  No GPS.  No natural navigation skills.  No problem.  Stop at phone booth and call to say I’m lost.  WRONG!  I don’t have his number memorized so I can’t call him.  Luckily, I knew my husband’s phone number and he gave me the info. But unlike my naturally abominable navigation skills, I used to remember at least 30 numbers at all times, (some of my friends remembered hundreds of phone numbers) but there’s no need to anymore, so are those tiny cells dying as we speak?

Yes, these are trivial concerns when we think of world peace and an end to violence – but that’s the way I am, and that’s where my stream-of-consciousness took me.

I spelled it right this time … Consciousness?


About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in Spelling and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Spell Check and GPS – The Dumbing of America

  1. ShimonZ says:

    Oh Rachel, I know the feeling. But in my case, at least, I don’t blame it on the spell checker, but on the computer itself. For many years, I wrote for a living. And whether I was writing by hand, or on the typewriter, I couldn’t bare to hand in a page that had cross-outs or corrections. If I would change an expression, or add a word, it would mean ultimately that I would have to write the whole page over again… which meant a lot of words, and a lot of letters. I was always a little tense when writing… sometimes thinking paragraphs ahead, in order to get just the right expressions in my composition… and then… everything changed when I started using the computer. You could change a word or a letter in a few seconds… you could relax. What can I say, things have gotten a lot easier… and those extra neurons? I caught a few playing poker the other day, just a wee bit behind my ear. They were sitting around in pajama bottoms listening to Dexter Gordon. They barely remembered me when I peeked in.

    • rachel bar says:

      Any person who can make me laugh is responsible for increasing my cell activity! “…and those extra neurons? I caught a few playing poker the other day, just a wee bit behind my ear. They were sitting around in pajama bottoms listening to Dexter Gordon. They barely remembered me when I peeked in.” That was very funny!
      Didn’t know who Dexter Gordon was, yes it’s kind of embarrassing. Maybe I knew and forgot? One would never know.

      • ShimonZ says:

        Dexter Gordon was a great Jazz artist. One of his famous albums is called “More than you know”. My favorite, though, is “Cry me a River”. Played Sax.

  2. lylekrahn says:

    And here I thot the GPS was invented solely to rescue my challenged sense of direction! In my case the brain cells aren’t atrophying since I never had them. As for the loss of spelling cells, I think I use all those cells for trying to navigate around poorly designed websites and software. Good post.

  3. Martha Carr says:

    I totally agree with you Rachel! I had the same concerns about calculators when my kids were learning math (but am personally so grateful for them because my brain was never oriented easily to math!) However, people who can’t spell who don’t use their spell-check are no better off! I think the ramifications of all these electronics in general are pretty astounding. (i.e. kids buried in their phones and i-pods and not relating to others around them – no eye contact, no conversation etc etc.) However, my brain is challenged with trying to figure out how to operate all the darn stuff.

  4. Alli Spotts-De Lazzer says:

    Ironically, for Christmas, my father requested an updated Thomas Guide. Remember those? We gave him both the Guide AND an easy-to-use GPS in case he chooses technology over his own navigational skills. You know, I just realized something as I am writing this–I imagine that for him, technology’s GPS devices may be an insult. I remember that he maintained the skills to navigate via stars, compass, etc. in the not so distant past in order to keep people safe while traveling across or under the seas. So, for him, GPS technology may defeat his own sense of personal self-efficacy–I could see that. But, who knows–maybe he feels relieved that his skill set gets to retire if he so desires. (By the way, the navigation gene did NOT transfer to me, so I feel great about the development of GPS navigation. On a side note–research seems to indicate that difficulty “set shifting” is common among people who have had eating disorders. So the GPS actually may be helping me hide–eh-hem, I mean, to compensate–for an actual deficit. Ha ha. But, in all seriousness, dumbing-down devices may also do the opposite of dumbing-down for some).

    I am stream of consciousnessing here (yes, I know that isn’t a word, so spell check can stop red-yelling at me!).

    People have laughed at me when I dial numbers on my cell. I do not typically use the one-touch dialing, nor have I ever relied on it. Why? Two reasons. One, I like that I can remember so many numbers. It is a fun game I play with myself. (Wow, that sounded weird.) Two, self-protection. I remember that back in my single days, things happened and knowing numbers really helped me (cell conking out, flat tire, getting lost, being followed, etc.). So, I continue to actually dial–you never know when you’ll need it! Although, as I type this, I realize that smart phones are now defeating my rationale as I can Google anyone/anything…. Ah-ha! Here is an exception! Disasters. For anyone who saw the tsunami movie, The Impossible, wouldn’t he have been even more messed-up if he hadn’t memorized the number back at home? Ah-ha! Google and Wi-Fi can’t solve everything!

    Finally, spell check… Technology seems to be geared towards fitting more and more in the day by saving time. Will this be good for us in the future (or present)? As you said, you used to go to the dictionary in the other room. My guess is that your neurons were firing the whole time and building strength surrounding your word-dilemma and problem-solving abilities. If technology keeps correcting us FOR us, what will we become as a society? It would be an interesting experiment to take a few hours and do everything the old fashioned way. For example, I cannot tell you how many people cannot give the correct change if the register doesn’t tell them the amount. In this holiday month, I have had to count change FOR the tellers a few times (a skill I was forced to master during my first job in my early teens–or I owed the register the difference!). So, are technology’s auto-interventions helping us on a whole or hurting us as a self-reliant society? Productivity vs. self-efficacy. Which will benefit our world more in the future?

    • rachel bar says:

      What an interesting post Alli! A lot to think of and ponder. I don’t know what’s going to happen to us, to our brains and our interactive skills. By the time the jury will be back with its decision I will probably not be here. Are these developments helpful? Damaging? I think both. I do have a reaction though when I go to a restaurant and people around the table focus on their smart phone instead of their friends or family.

  5. Martin Balaban says:

    You think you have problems? Many times I have committed the faux pas of mispronouncing “organism.”

  6. Cai says:

    Thank the goddesses for google maps on my iphone! When I cannot figure out the turn-by-turn directions, I resort to the map with the little blue dot that shows the way. I still have to turn around at least four times! I have also lost the ability to do math in my head. I have no idea why that is so. I learned most of my math by “rote,” so I would think my mind would default to basic “times tables,” but it does not. Can I blame it on menopause? I just realized something fabulous — this space to leave a Reply underlines words that are misspelled! Take heart, Rachel, you are not alone.

  7. rachel bar says:

    My dearest Cai, feminism aside, but the gods (and not the goddesses) invented google maps. It’s a well known fact.

    I’m so glad to discover that I’m surrounded by people who are navigation challenged, math challenged, spelling challenged and generally confused. A couple of more responses and I would think that I fit the norm…

  8. Barbara Cooper says:

    I, too, used to know how to spell. As a young girl whenever I needed to know the spelling of a word I’d ask my mom who was a great speller. Her response was always the same. “Look it up!” she’d say. So I got into the habit of dragging out the big dictionary and looking up words which I still maintain you need to know how to spell to find! Still it set a precedent for me. I’m a voracious reader and many times come across an unknown word. Yes, I can figure out the word by the context of the sentence, but still, I lug out the old dictionary and look it up. I don’t use spell check because it never seems to know the word I want. It suggests the wrong word. I can see and know when a word is misspelled, but I don’t always know how to correct it without Mr. Webster. My dictionary was a high school graduation gift, so needless to say, it is old and outdated, but somehow still serves me well. People of my generation at least used to know how to spell. I worry about the younger generation because with their damned texting, they never spell correctly. I sense that sometime in the future the world will adapt and change so that the correct spelling of ‘you” will be “u”. “See you later” has become “c u ltr. It will become a shorthand world which I didn’t do to well with in college, but at least the new shorthand won’t be a bunch of squiggles on a page.
    As for navigation, thank God I have a good sense of direction. My GPS sometimes gets stuck and/ or is wrong! My husband named his GPS “Maven” but when I’m in the car with him I’m the Maven because I know better than that other broad who is telling him what to do and where to go. ( besides which, as his wife, telling him what to do and where to go is actually in my job description) My husband swears the GPS in his car gets annoyed at him when he ignores her. I got annoyed at my GPS one day when traffic was horrible on the freeway and I wanted to take surface streets- the damned GPS keep leading me back to the freeway. I turned her off and figured it out myself.
    Yes, technology is great. But I go kicking and screaming into the new technological world. I’m not stubborn, really. The truth is, I can’t see the damned cell phone without my reading glasses, I can’t program anything without my reading glasses and I am not always wearing my reading glasses. I finally had to give up my beloved camera because you can’t get film developed easily anymore. My last roll of film had to be sent out somewhere and the pictures that were returned to me were awful- too dark and a weird size. So, I got a digital camera. The buttons are too small and, hello, I can’t see them without my reading glasses! (Oh how I miss my eyesight)
    My mother had a great sense of direction and my father had none. You could put my mother in any city in the world and she would know her way around. My father got lost in a parking lot in San Francisco while looking for his car. One of my favorite stories about them concerned a road trip they took before I was born. They were driving back to NY from Florida. They left early in the morning. After a couple of hours, my mother informed my father that he made a wrong turn. He argued with her, saying he was on a highway, how could he possibly have made a wrong turn? She replied, It’s morning and I should have the sun on my side of the car! Yup, Daddy was on his way to the gulf of Mexico. Technology wouldn’t have helped my father. He could not figure out how to get their messages off the answering machine. He was completely technologically challenged. So it was good he had my mother. And lucky for me, I’m married to a technological wizard who can still see without reading glasses.
    And….. I didn’t need to look up a single word here! There is still hope for me!

    • rachel bar says:

      Thank you Barbara for sharing about yourself and how the technological age can be overwhelming sometimes, especially without glasses:)
      BTW spell check is only that, it checks your spelling but it does not give the meaning. I also enjoyed your reflections on your parents. Heartwarming. BTW, Peter is also convinced that his GPS lady gets annoyed with him…

      • Barbara Cooper says:

        Yes, I know what spell check does- it still can be annoying because it doesn’t always know what word I’m going for!
        Thanks for your blog- it is always enjoyable! Keep ’em coming!

  9. Maurice Labi says:

    I’m waiting for the day when I can stick antennas in the back of my daughters’ heads, activate them by remote control from the sofa, watch them wash the dishes, towel dry them, and return to their Facebook screens to be recharged until the next activation

    • rachel bar says:

      Don’t lose hope Maurice, it’ll happen! However, I cannot promise you that it would be within the next couple of weeks when Pnina will be here and you will need someone to wash the dishes…

  10. godschool says:

    Oh dear, all too true of yours truly too … I do a lot of crosswords and after a while my brain cells get crossed and I have to write out a word I know perfectly well how to spell, and stare at it, and discuss it with somebody else … As for GPS – oh yes, the gods were kind to me that day too – I can get lost coming out of a shop.

    • rachel bar says:

      Godschool, I just realized I don’t know your name! Thanks for your comments. We both experience the same things, I can get lost driving home if it’s from a new direction…

  11. aFrankAngle says:

    “Consciousness” is a difficult word for me to spell. At least it has a definite spelling, unlike judgment and judgement. Meanwhile, great analogy between spell check and GPS. Then again, I think of those who chose not to use spell check. …. BTW … Happy 2013 to you!

  12. Unlike you Rachel I’m a terrible speller…1st out in the Spelling Bee’s at school and I was delighted…No ecstatic when I was introduced to the spell-checker…can’t live without it…well, least in a virtual type of way…”Now if they could only invent the spell-checker writing utensil….great posty and Happy New Year…

  13. rachel bar says:

    Happy New Year Jaded. I guess the gods were not only kind to me but to you as well. You should thank them for spell check and if you wait long enough there will be a spell checker writing utensil!

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