The following images are propagating quickly this week through the social media websites Facebook and Pinterest, attributing a quote about technology, social interaction and idiocy to Albert Einstein:
the Quote Investigator, there is no evidence that Albert Einstein ever uttered any version of this quote. As a search through the Google database of millions of books demonstrates, the phrase “generation of idiots” is nowhere associated with Albert Einstein until 1996, and appears commonly with Einstein’s name only in the last year or two. I looked up the work of the Quote Investigator and verified it using Google’s database because the quote sounded fishy to me. One tell-tale sign that Einstein didn’t say it is the confusion of “technology” with lightning-fast modern telecommunications. A pencil is a piece of technology. A hearing aid is a piece of technology. A book is a piece of technology. All of these have a pretty solid reputation of fighting idiocy. The tendency to equate “technology” particularly with circuitry came after Einstein’s heyday.
I suspect the actual author of these quotes of engaging in some deliberate irony when she or he released them using social media websites. Is somebody giggling in a dorm room somewhere, amused at the use of social media to spread a fake quote insulting the users of social media? If so, it’s a meta-joke.
The question is, does it matter that Einstein probably didn’t ever say this? Does the truth of the statement rest on who said it? If the author of the fake quote foisted the quote upon willing dupes who spread it far and wide using technology, does it prove the author’s point? Is our credulity a product of human nature, not of the technology we only use to express it?