The case for independent thinking

The Andromeda galaxy


This is a guest post by Ali Cornish of the fantastic blog, Everthrive. You should check it out.


Many centuries ago, Rene Descartes coined the phrase: ‘I think, therefore I am.’ He believed that the first defining aspect of humanity was that we are creatures of thought; the only reason we know we are truly alive is due to the fact that we can think about our existence. Our ability to think independently defines our humanity.

Our ability to think independently is being challenged.

Far from the 1600s when Descartes made his philosophical proclamation, in the 2000s we often don’t take advantage of our humanity as he previously defined it. Oftentimes, when we are called to think about something, or come across a question to be answered, we quickly pull out our devices and ask Google. Pretty much everyone I know does this, myself included.

This practice, while very convenient and expedient, actually may cause more harm than good. Quickly turning to Google for the answer is evidence that we are losing the patience, the ability, and the will to engage in independent, deep thinking.

“I think, therefore I am,” has turned into “I Google, therefore I am”.

Why is deep thinking important?

Deep thinking is an indicator that we are engaging, retaining, and building upon learning opportunities. If we don’t pause and attempt to puzzle out answers for ourselves, we lose a valuable opportunity to enhance the power of our minds. Immediate access to data is changing our ability to think independently and engage in deep attention.

I will explain this further using an example I bring up quite a bit in teaching. If we want to become physically stronger, we have to eat right and exercise. We can’t just take supplements and expect lasting results.

The same idea goes for our minds. If we want to exercise our minds and become mentally stronger, retain more information, and be able to think independently, we have to take the time to listen actively and read closely. We can’t simply do an internet search for the information we seek and expect our minds to flourish and get stronger, with lasting results.

It’s easier to think shallowly. So, we do it.

Immediate access to data has its drawbacks, but it can of course be very useful in certain situations.

When Josh and I arrive at our restaurant of choice, salivating to the thought of fresh chips and salsa, and to our horror, the lights are off, windows shuttered – It’s closed!!??? – we need a backup plan, stat! So, he gets on Yelp and I get on Google Maps; we quickly select somewhere new.

Situation solved, case closed. And we are able to eat instead of starve to death! It’s a technology win.

Now think of another scenario. Josh and I are hanging out with some old friends. We haven’t seen each other in a while. It’s a really fun conversation, animated, with ebbs and flows, everyone is engaging on multiple levels. And, to my delight, I find out that one of the group actually lived down the street from me in San Diego some 15 years ago!

So, I sneak into my phone to pull up a Google image of my old apartment to continue the discussion. By the time I’m ready to share, the conversation has shifted, morphed, and I’m instantly out of place with my blurry Google image. Looking around for a new thread
of discussion, I see there are others just as disengaged as I am. On their phones.

When we turn our attention to our phones, we rob ourselves of a fulfilling, naturally evolving conversation.

Shifting our attention to our devices, even for a little while, alters the natural flow of things. We lose what our friends said, felt, and meant. We lose the eye contact, so important for creating empathy. We cease to actively listen, resulting in our company thinking we aren’t interested in what they have to say, showing our friends that we don’t care at all about them.
We stop thinking independently and rob ourselves of the very attribute that defines our humanity.

I didn’t need to look up a photo of my old apartment at that very moment. Instead, I could have continued the conversation about San Diego and what it meant to both of us. We could have shared our memories created a meaningful exchange.

When I wanted information, I didn’t dig into the back of my mind to conjure up a verbal image of my apartment. I found it easier to search for a picture online.

Lame. My friends deserved better than this.

According to MIT Professor, Sherry Turkle: “89 percent of Americans say that during their last social interaction, they took out a phone, and 82 percent said that it deteriorated the conversation they were in.”

Studies indicate that even a silent, phone placed screen-down between two people at a table causes them to share less with each other. The result of a phone’s mere presence in a conversation is feeling less connected, less interested, less empathetic, and less human.

How can we reclaim our humanity and our ability to think independently?

Listed below are several strategies that are sure to limit distractions caused by the presence of cell phones:

1. If you’re going out, leave your phone at home or in the car. Or, be content that it is resting
quietly in your pocket or purse. This will take some will-power!

2. If you’re staying home and don’t want to be distracted by your phone, leave it upstairs or in a room seldom visited. This takes a little less will power than #1.

3. Utilize the Airplane Mode setting which disables Bluetooth, WIFI, and telephone settings. The problem with this is that you can just turn Airplane Mode off anytime. It’s best to combine this step with #1 or #2 for optimal effectiveness.

4. Turn on “Do Not Disturb” while you are in the presence of others. This setting can limit calls and texts sent to your device. I use this all of the time!

5. Set “Quiet Hours” on your phone. For example, I set my quiet hours from 9pm to 8am, so I am unable to receive calls or texts between those times. Setting my quiet hours has done wonders for my sleep and my overall wellbeing.

6. If you must have your phone with you, turn off the notifications so you won’t be at the mercy of your phone. Remember, our phones exist for us, not the other way around.

7. There is power in numbers. If you’re out with friends, have a verbal agreement about phone use, such as ‘no visible phones at the table’ OR ‘if you must use your phone, step outside.’

8. If you have the right equipment, set up an Aversion Therapy situation in which you receive a shock every time you pick up your phone (just kidding!)

If you’re interested, check out a few of my previous posts where I emphasize the importance of constructing definitive boundaries between ourselves and our personal technology devices.

All in all, setting boundaries helps us reconnect with experiences and people in the real world.

Be Free

Find Yourself Lost

The Importance of Disconnecting to Connect

Wherever You Are, Be All There

Put Down Your Phone and Live Your Life


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One thought on “The case for independent thinking

  1. Love this, was just mentioning this, so true. need to kill that “killer of connection to real life” it is a sad state we’re living in, technology is not always a good thing.

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