Technological change has been making increasingly severe demands on human beings for around 300 years. There was change before then of course, but it was slow and most people could live their lives without having to adapt to radically new ways of living.

Things began to speed up as the Industrial Revolution began and an argument can be made that the century 1815 and 1914 saw more radical technological qualitative change than any generation before or since. But that change was the difference between living in a still largely pre-industrial society (in 1815) and an industrial society in its early middle age (in 1914). Moreover, the change did not actually require the vast majority of the population to master complicated machines at their work, let alone in their own homes.

In 1914 the most complicated machine most people had to operate was probably the telephone and vast swathes of the population would not even have had to go that far into the world of technology. Not only that, because machines then were either mechanical or part mechanical, i.e., not electronic, just looking at the way a machine was made often allowed the intelligent observer to have a fair guess at how it worked and to see what had gone wrong if it malfunctioned. Even work-related machines which required skilled operators, such as machine lathes, were not fundamentally difficult to understand, although the dexterity required to operate them often took time to acquire.

Things remained essentially the same until the advent of personal computers and the widespread use of digital technology. Machines became more and more predominant in advanced societies but they were not, in most instances, complicated to use. This was particularly true of those machines used in private life. Telephones just required the user to dial; washing machines had a start button and nothing else; televisions and radios simply needed switching on; cars were simply designed to travel. Then came digital technology.

Computers are like no other machine ever invented. They have a unique combination of an unparalleled public and private use and a central importance to economic activity and public administration. The potential penalties for the failure of these machines are vastly greater than for any other piece of technology. Not only can an immediate application of a computer be ended, as can happen with all machines, but computer users also risk losing networking capacity and, if they have not useable backed up copies of their computer data, the loss of their entire records and conceivably the loss of the means to continue their business. Computer users are also vulnerable to outside sabotage though hacking and viruses. No other machine has ever exposed a society to such risks through its ubiquity and vulnerability to outside influences.

These machines are also vastly more demanding of time than any other machine ever used by the general public. To master computers to the degree where a person does not lie helplessly in the hands of experts is a demanding and continuing task. It is unlikely that many could or would manage it without making computers their profession. In fact, even supposed computer professionals are only knowledgeable in their specialist areas: a hardware specialist has no deep knowledge of software and vice versa, while programmers long ago lost any detailed understanding of an entire program. It is also true that many self described IT experts are anything but. They get by with a small amount of IT knowledge because of the general level of ignorance amongst the general public and the fact that most problems can be overcome by re-booting or by reinstalling programs.

The computer age is a stunningly recent phenomenon. Most people even in the West would not have used a computer before 1985. Probably a majority had not done so by 1990. By the end of the 1980s the nearest most would have got to a computer would probably have been bank ATM machines. The internet was esoteric and laborious, the web barely more than a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye. Even in the world of employment computers were still used sparingly.

As with computers actually called computers, so with the other machines which cause much grief now. The mobile phone was a status symbol and the size of a brick, while landline phones were still phones boringly restricted to simply phoning rather than mini-computers with a tendency to bemuse. Microwaves had a simple choice of power. Refrigerators did not offer to remind you of what needed to be ordered. TVs tended to simply work when switched on.

In the past 25 years all this has dramatically changed. We are in a world in which computers are absolutely integral to business and public administration and they are now the norm rather than the exception in homes. For most people, it is literally impossible to escape them. Worse, they have become ever more complex to use and invade ever more of our lives as microprocessors are inserted into the most unlikely things such as clothes. Machines generally are more demanding to use. This has profound implications for people both in high IQ and low IQ societies.

Even to use computers at a low level of expertise, such as using a word processor to its full capacity and sending email efficiently, requires a degree of concentration and knowledge with which a substantial minority are uneasy. More demanding activities such as spreadsheet use or the construction of a database are inaccessible to the majority. Most people have only a minimal knowledge of the capacities of their operating system . This lack of expertise afflicts the young as well as the old, which suggests that this is going to be a permanent problem because the young have grown up with computers.

Of the commonly used programmes search engines are particularly interesting from the point of view of IQ. Everyone who uses a computer can use a search engine at some level, but the skill with which they use search engines varies massively. This is unsurprising because the search engine is the commonly used program which most calls upon IQ related abilities. It relies not simply on knowledge but also problem solving. To perform a function in a word processor requires the user to apply inert knowledge, go to this menu, use this function etc. To use a search engine efficiently for anything but a simple search for a certain website requires the ability to formulate questions in the most pertinent way. I never ceased to be amazed how at many people use search engines ineptly, often comically so. I should not be amazed of course because the ability to do so is IQ dependent.

The implications for those with a low IQ are these: the lower the IQ, the more the person will struggle in an advanced society because the use of computers is increasingly inescapable. In a high IQ society the low IQ individual will struggle but the society as a whole will manage. In a low IQ society there will simply not be the IQ firepower to sustain a society based on digital technology. In a high IQ society the low IQ part of the population will be left increasingly in a technological no man’s land, unable to competently use the technology but forced to use it simply to live.

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