One of the world’s best-known inventors has warned that the next generation is becoming “dumbed down” because of an over-reliance on the internet.
Trevor Bayliss is best known for inventing the wind-up radio, which he designed and made in response to the need to communicate information about AIDS to people around Africa.
But, 75-year-old Bayliss, made an OBE in 1997, says he is part of a dying breed of inventors because children are losing creativity and practical skills due to spending too much time in front of screens. Bayliss says he fears young people in the future will have lost the ability to make anything with their hands.
“They are dependent on Google searches,” he said. “A lot of kids will become fairly brain-dead if they become so dependent on the internet because they will not be able to do things the old-fashioned way.”
He is now urging schools to step in to solve the problem by introducing pupils to the likes of Meccano, the model construction set invented in 1901, and other practical toys.
“With Meccano, you could do your own reproduction of, say, the Sydney Harbour Bridge,” he explained. “If you brought Meccano back into primary or secondary schools then you’d have class one against class two – you’ve got four hours to make the Sydney Harbour Bridge and we’ll see which one is the strongest.”
But others moved to extol the virtues of the internet for teaching children life skills. Dr David Wood, who is a maths fellow at Warwick University and Academic Leader of the International Gateway for Gifted Youth, said: “Far from dumbing down, from my point of view, it is just the opposite. The internet is a tool and one with fantastic potential for kids if it is used properly. We use the internet to enable the brightest kids to link up with each other.”
And forum users quickly moved to back Wood’s point of view. James Diamond wrote: “So would this gentleman (Bayliss) care to explain how the old-fashioned way of poring over a thesaurus and/or encyclopedia to possibly find something out, rather than typing something into Google and getting a wealth of results in a matter of seconds, is going to make kids brain dead? Usual technophobe tripe.”
Another, calling himself mynorthland, said: “I think that creative ability in a child will not be diminished over centuries in the future due to Google, for example. Google is a data bank, nothing more. Creative talent is genetically driven and will not be degraded in future generations by using a different data location, any more than 100 years ago when encyclopedias were the source of data. Google just speeds up the data finding.”
Cromwell added: “Does that guy think the internet invented itself? Who on earth does he think invents computer games, image software, music software, operating systems, etc, etc, etc?
Certainly, most of us can hardly remember what we did before the days of the internet and Google searches. From the outset, Google said its mission was “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” and it has definitely fulfilled that.