Tools Don’t—and Won’t—Make the Man: A Cognitive Look at the Future

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The question of whether tools erase cognitive and physical interindividual differences has been surprisingly overlooked in the literature. Yet if technology is profusely available in a near or far future, will we be equal in our capacity to use it? We sought to address this unexplored, fundamental issue, asking 200 participants to perform 3 physical (e.g., fine manipulation) and 3 cognitive tasks (e.g., calculation) in both non–tool-use and tool-use conditions. Here we show that tools do not erase but rather extend our intrinsic physical and cognitive skills. Moreover, this phenomenon of extension is task specific because we found no evidence for superusers, benefitting from the use of a tool irrespective of the task concerned. These results challenge the possibility that technical solutions could always be found to make people equal. Rather, technical innovation might be systematically limited by the user’s initial degree of knowledge or skills for a given task.

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