Knowledge in Our Pockets, Not in Our Heads

The internet and more recently the mobile web on cell phones has changed the way we discuss information in conversations. When I was growing up information was stored in one of two ways; in books and in our heads. If we could not recall something we walked over to an encyclopedia or some other book, or talked to someone who would have that knowledge. The advent of the mobile web means that whether we are at home, out for dinner, walking through a park, or driving in a car the answer to almost any trivia question is just a few taps away.

What We Have Lost

What we have gained from this technology is clear, so I will focus the article on what I see as a loss.

This article started because of a sense of loss that comes with instantaneous knowledge. The ability to answer any question immediately sometimes limits conversations. While at first glance it is a great thing that we no longer have to endure two people argue about whether Jean Claude was really in “Breakin” for 30 minutes (yes he is dancing like a goofball in the background: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POXoJyNcLiI&feature=related) or not, there is something lost in the flow of these conversations when the answer is immediate. Not remembering something can lead to all kinds of fun forks in the conversation and are more organic or free flowing without someone pulling out a cell every time a bit of trivia is forgotten or questioned.

Mastery of knowledge is no longer as important. Since most things can be looked up in a few seconds, we no longer value mastering a set of knowledge in our heads. While this leaves us the time to focus more on critical thinking and less on memorization, there is a cost. Mastery of knowledge can lead to general understanding and insights that are simply not available without having the whole set of information already in our heads. Education will need to find a balance between teaching facts and critical thinking, because we need both to solve the greatest problems that face civilization today.

Internet in general and more recently the mobile web has also changed the way we relate to the knowledge masters in our life. Before the days of the internet, most of us had those in our lives we would reach out to to answer questions on various topics. If we had a question about who directed a movie, we would call our friend who is a movie buff. For a sports question, we would call the sports nut. The need for experts in our circle of friends is gone. Gone with it are the calls to ask a question that leads to meaningful conversations with that person. The relationship, loosely based on the knowledge a person has, is gone.

How Technology Changes Our Lives:

Technology dominates every aspect of our lives. These articles are a series of muses on how technological changes are benefiting and harming the wellbeing of the individual and society as a whole. To read more on from this series, follow the links below:

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