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Did you ever toy with a Rubik’s Cube back in the ‘80s? They were those crazy-colored devices that tortured many people for hours on end as everyone tried to make every side the same color. I never was able to finish that, though I did accomplish two sides. If any of you ever finished the whole cube (without cheating and moving stickers around), you have my admiration!

The Rubik’s Cube was an extreme example of problem-solving prowess. Most of us probably gave up long before coming close to a finish, but there sure were a lot of people trying.

As I thought about this week’s column, I was reflecting on a couple of recent ones, especially last week’s about the growth mindset and a few weeks back about quitting. Putting these ideas together led to what you’re reading now, the idea of what’s happened to our problem-solving abilities.

Truly, the ability to solve problems without having to seek help very often is a great skill. People who can look at a dilemma and work through it to find the answer are becoming fewer and fewer. Part of this is an over-reliance on technology. Those of us who were in school prior to the advent of the Internet remember, with a shiver, looking up information in encyclopedias and searching through the card catalog in the library. Today, you simply have to know that “google” is a verb, not just a Web site. Even if you use a different search engine, you likely say that you googled something.

With that at our fingertips, is it any wonder our minds have started to move away from problem solving? What was the name of that band that sang that one song? I’ll look it up on the Internet. Who was the actor with the lead role in that great movie? Pull out the iPad. How do I change this light bulb? Maybe there’s a diagram online.

That last one might be a bit facetious, but not by much. I have more and more kids come up to me in school when they have an issue with a device. My first question is, “Did you shut out of the app or turn off the device?” Ninety percent of the time, that solves the problem. So why didn’t they think of that? Why is it that when the so-called spinning wheel of death appears on a web browser, they go into panic mode and think everything is broken?

That’s simple. With all these answers at their fingertips, they don’t need to think as much. Part of problem solving is using your imagination and going outside the box. But who needs an imagination when your video game provides the whole story for you? We don’t see many kids running around outside playing cops and robbers anymore, do we? The same goes for other games we used to create, including new scenes from our favorite movies and inventing new episodes of TV shows like The Dukes of Hazzard. We didn’t just watch the screens, we brought them into our play time.

And I’ll admit that my problem solving isn’t what it used to be. It’s very easy to get sucked into the world of technology and rely on that for an answer. More than once I’ve gone to Angie Aaseth, our tech coordinator, with a problem, and when she’s pointed out a solution, I’ve slapped my head. Duh!

I’m afraid this is a problem that might not be solved any time soon. Technology will only provide more and more for us, so we have less and less to do. I look at people who work on cars as a great example of how this has changed. Cars have gone from people having to locate the problem and figure out a solution to having so many computerized systems that someone in the auto shop will hook your vehicle up to a computer which will determine the problem and suggest the solution. There are still times they need to get creative, but, much like everything else, modernization is making life easier.

It’s the ultimate irony. Problem solving is getting worse, but we can’t seem to solve that problem. Maybe I’ll go back to my old Rubik’s Cube, and that will stimulate my brain to come up with an answer!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is related to last week’s word! It’s lethonomia, which is the inability to recall the right name, as in, “He was so reliant on the Internet to come up with name that his lethonomia extended to remembering his college roommate’s name.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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