I read a lot of science fiction as a kid. Not the trendy post-apocalyptic action adventures so popular in the movie theaters every summer,where good-looking antiheroes wearing expensive sunglasses save the world and restore faith in humanity. Nah, for me it was more mannered (read: dull) tales of how technology influences society and culture gradually over time, written by the likes of Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke and Robert Heinlein. It was for nerds, by nerds, and I ate it up like soylent green.*
I still remember an Asimov short story called “The Feeling of Power” that I read as a teenager. Written in 1958 but set in the distant future, the story is a cautionary tale about humans who have become so dependent on technology that they’ve lost the ability to perform simple arithmetic, letting computers handle everything instead. When a low-level engineer relearns the skill, his prowess with numbers is highly sought after by the military.
Maybe the generals could use this “math stuff” to improve their weapons.
It’s an irony-laden story that reminds us of the dangers of over-reliance on technology at the expense of our own brainpower.
Looking over the features in this technology-themed issue, that message seems more relevant than ever.
We begin with a preview of the Google Glass “augmented reality” device—how it functions and what ODs need to know when discussing it with patients.
Our reliance on Google has only increased in the five years since a cover story in The Atlantic pointedly asked, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Guilty as charged. I use Google for answers and guidance so often that I don’t even give my own memory much of a chance to stay in shape. Case in point: I’ve been to my mother’s new house dozens of times in recent years—every trip powered by Google Maps. I’m chagrined to admit that I might not be able to make it there if I had to rely only on my wits.
So, what will life be like if Google Glass takes off and becomes ubiquitous? Ever easier access to information, ever fewer reasons to learn anything ourselves. That bothers me more than the privacy issues everyone is up in arms about over the clandestine photo-taking it enables. Luckily, the Google Glass headset looks so dorky that even a card-carrying nerd like me wouldn’t wear it in its current form. Until miniaturization allows the technology to disappear into the frame, expect interest to be limited to early adopters who value gadgetry over aesthetics.
But always-connected, always-correct devices will continue to gain traction, especially in medicine.
Raiders of the Lost Arts
The anterior segment OCT technology on display in our cover story is truly astounding. But its revolutionary advances must be balanced with a keen awareness of the anatomy and pathophysiology of the ocular diseases it depicts, to allow proper perspective when acting upon the data it provides.
OCT and other advanced devices also figure prominently in our annual reader survey of new equipment purchases. It’s great to see so many new technologies flourishing and being integrated into practice; just make sure they augment rather than supplant your clinical acumen.
Asimov’s story ends with this epiphany:
“Nine times seven,” thought Shuman with deep satisfaction,” is sixty-three, and I don’t need a computer to tell me so. The computer is in my own head.” And it was amazing the feeling of power that gave him.
To safeguard that feeling in the here and now, this month we debut a new series on the ‘lost arts’ of optometry. The authors begin with a refresher on scleral depression; future installments will cover the fundus exam and gonioscopy. Fundamental skills like these are always worth honing, even when advanced technology abounds. Use new tech as a tool, not a crutch.
I pledge to do the same. The next time I drive to my mom’s house, I’ll leave the cell phone turned off and see if I can go it alone.
*Are you a fan of old-school sci-fi, too? Find the reference we used in one of this month’s headlines. The first reader who points it out gets a mention on Facebook. Write to
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