Friday, February 14, 2014

The Googled Mind

Living in the age of information can be both incredible and overwhelming, with so much out there how can anyone be sure what is important to know or do?  With the world changing more and more, can we even be sure the conventional model of knowledge is still applicable to the situation?

In most math classes, children are first taught how to add without a calculator, then later introduced to the calculator and shown how to bypass the difficult arithmetic steps.  One might say you transition from knowing how to do math in your head to knowing how to make a machine do math, but look at the benefits, memorizing a small set of commands lets you carry out exceedingly complex operations on the calculator.

In the same way, information technology like Google is coming to replace memorizing facts from books, with smartphones and wireless internet you can search for almost any fact instantly, so is it a waste of brain power to memorize facts?  Well of course not, because the more facts that you know, the more you can train your intuition and see connections between pieces of information.  The beauty of Google search is to add almost any piece of information to your mind at will, this allows people to conduct investigations in reality the same way you can imagine investigating maths with a calculator.

One can imagine the focus of future education shifting from memorizing facts to learning how to find facts, in the same way as math shifted from learning arithmetic to learning how to operate a calculator.  Of course, the computer makes all sorts of things obsolete, why learn to spell when you can spell check your documents, why use a phone when you can instant message, why buy a cd when you can get a digital version from Itunes?  All these abilities come from the fact that we can store information in electromagnetic bits, we can build music, pictures, video, books and many other useful things out of these bits and then store them on tiny hard drives.

By connecting computers together it is possible to send and receive information to and from almost any computer in the world, now that computers are inside phones, most people are connected anywhere and anytime, this capability has become part of humanity and enables us to know anything the internet knows, provided we know how to search for it.  Ultimately learning how to seek out and process information will be the key to staying relevant in an ever changing world, just as education once moved from oral tradition to written record, soon humanity will shift from written and memorized learning to digital and functional learning;  the emphasis will be on using computers to do things rather than learning how to do things for yourself.

This might seem frighting at first but just remember how great spell check is, then remember the list of things that you don't know how to do that you depend on for things that you want, are you prepared to stop doing things like using a computer or even using metal objects just because you don't know how to make them yourself?  In the same way, it might seem weird that no one needs to know how to spell anymore, just like no one needs to do arithmetic if they don't want to, but really these things are adaptations that ultimately give us the capability to do greater and more challenging things still.

It is also worth considering the fact that using Google, a calculator or even spell check requires a levels of skill, there is even the idea of "Google Fu", a contest of skill between seekers of information. The view that searching the internet for knowledge is a skill with important applications for everyday life is becoming more and more widespread as people begin to experiment with technology for themselves.  These tools allow for a kind of augmentation, an upgrade of our human abilities, the opportunity to connect with a global mind, to speak with individuals from all over the world and to hear stories from every different walk of life.

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