“The champions of ‘new literacies’ claim that since all facts are now Google-able they are therefore unworthy of committing to memory. But even the most sophisticated digital-literacy skills won’t help students and workers navigate the world if they don’t have a broad base of knowledge about how the world actually operates. Indeed, evidence from cognitive science challenges the notion that skills can exist independent of factual knowledge….”
Computers are great when you want to store information that shouldn’t change — say, the date and time, but brains are the superior choice for elaborative memory: to connect up with other facts and ideas, to acquire successive layers of meaning, to steep for a while in your accumulated knowledge and experience and so produce a richer mental brew.
Is technology making us stupid — or smarter than we’ve ever been? Author Nicholas Carr memorably made the case for the former in his 2010 book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. This fall we’ll have a rejoinder of sorts from writer Clive Thompson, with his book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better.
My own take: technology can make us smarter or more stupid, and we need to develop a set of principles to guide our everyday behavior and make sure that tech is improving and not impeding our mental processes. One of the big questions being debated today is, What kind of information do we need to have stored in our heads, and what kind can we leave “in the cloud,” to be accessed as necessary?
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