Arthur W. Hoppe’s Prophetic Warning on iPhones and PDAs: “Put Your Brains in Your Pocket”

I wanted to share this bit of research that I discovered today.

In his short essay, “Put Your Brains in Your Pocket,” Arthur W. Hoppe takes the development in Berkeley, California in the early 1970s to purchase calculators for young children. The idea was that the calculators would equalize the opportunities of students, because calculator technology enabled students good and poor at math to correctly answer basic mathematical problems. Hoppe extrapolates this with a fictitious and humorous account of a Dr. Wolfgang von Houlihan who developed a pocket-sized device that helped his son live as an intelligent and capable individual until his wife sent his trousers to the cleaners. Hoppe is concerned that “a pocket computer with a miniaturized memory bank capable of storing billions of facts and the ability not only to multiply but to analyze, deduce, and program solutions to every conceivable problem” (23-24), would result in people relying on such technology. This shift would not only be dangerous if something happened to one’s pocket-sized mind, but he worries that it would erode basic human emotions and the ability to communicate those emotions without the aid of our personal computing devices. It seems clear now that our technology changes us as we change our technology. As Mazlish argues, humanity and technology co-evolve. This is not something that we should necessarily fear or be concerned about, as long as we, today, consider and reflect on the changes that take place as a result of our rapidly accelerating technological advances. Shifts in technological advancement and integration into our daily lives seem inevitable, but there is no reason that we should accept these changes without care and deliberation. We should also remember that technologies address certain needs or wants by people. Technologies are tools that help us do the work (in a general sense) that we need and want to do. If iPhones, Wolfram Alpha, and Wikipedia help us do these things, then there is no reason to march them off a cliff with the Luddites.

Hoppe, Arthur W. “Put Your Brains in Your Pocket.” Computers, Computers, Computers: In Fiction and Verse. Ed. D. Van Tassel. New York: Thomas Nelson, 1977. 23-25. Print.

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Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.