Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Internet Kills Knowledge?

Much like earlier Atlantic articles on whether Google is making us smarter or dumber, a The New York Times piece -- based on this article -- gets into the question as well. Good reading, both.

In part, this has everything to do with facts. Does it matter that we can immediately recall some fact as compared to being able to quickly and efficiently find some fact? Are we raising a generation of people who know less, but who are more capable of finding stuff out? Some say it's no problem. We're creating a generation, through Google, of integrators, of people who know where to find stuff out and how to link it all together to make sense of some issue, question, or problem. Others sorry that without basic knowledge, an underpinning of common understanding, new information means very little and cannot be integrated, no matter how quickly you can Google some fact.

From the piece mentioned above:
A certain lack of general knowledge—what some might call ignorance—is thus built into the system, and will be more so in the future. My Googling undergraduates are doing something they may have been encouraged to do at school.
This may be one of the most important topics in education, and what people know, for quite some time. Is it a scary world? Not so much. Writing, too, was feared to create a forgetfulness in the public, an inability to learn and instead rely on words scratched on parchment. And we all know that turned out to be a pretty good idea. So a world in which basic facts and information are at our fingertips, so goes the reasoning, frees us to consider deeper what we are learning and to better match it with other information. To integrate. To learn wisely.

I'm wanting to buy into this. Really I am.

This article quoted above is excellent, and I strongly recommend it. So good that I'm going to lift, with due credit to Brian Cathcart, a professor of journalism at Kingston in the U.K., the end of the article:
There will always be dimwits, and their feats of stupidity will always make news. Equally, there will always be teachers and parents who shake their heads at the supposed ignorance of the young. We need to be careful before we construct trends from such things. But the internet is different, and it lifts the discussion onto a different plane. We are bound to tap into it for general knowledge, and the young will do it first. Schools are surely right to encourage them. The story of Thoth tells us that the curmudgeonly response—“This invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it”—is a waste of breath.

But equally, the extraordinary popularity of the quiz in the mass-communication age suggests that general knowledge, the idea of a pool of information shared within a culture and a time, is potent enough to survive.

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