Will Always-On Gadgets Change The Way We Think About Knowledge?

from the hopefully dept

While Nick Carr is getting a lot of attention for his weakly supported conjecture that the internet is making people dumber, perhaps a much more interesting question is how technology is changing the way we think about knowledge and information. Carr's piece was sort of the modern equivalent of parents from a generation ago worrying about kids using calculators in school and forgetting how to do math. Of course, that didn't happen. It just allowed individuals to better use the tools at their disposal to do even more interesting and complicated mathematics.

The same thing appears to be happening with modern technologies as well. They're acting as an extension of what's available, and changing the way we think about knowledge and what's important to remember. That lets people "outsource" parts of what they used to need to remember to a backup brain (i.e., technology), and use their primary brain to work on more important things. This becomes even more interesting when you connect it to studies that have shown the real determinant of intelligence isn't necessarily how much you remember, but what your brain decides to forget. If we can train ourselves to ignore easily accessible data, and leave our brains to focus on more important tasks, then it's quite possible that technology can enable people to do much more complex thinking.


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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 9:18am

    "Of course, that didn't happen."

    In many cases this is true. Unfortunately, in far too many cases it is not.

     

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      Mischa, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 9:55am

      Re:

      Very true. My mother can do math in her head in about a fourth less time than it takes me. Nine times out of ten, I don't even bother. I just reach for a calculator.

       

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        hegemon13, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 11:14am

        Re: Re:

        But...is it really that important to do math in your head 25% faster? Think about all the gains of using a computer. How much more quickly can one design and test complex algorithms with a computer than with paper and pencil? I vote for the advancement of mathematics over the average speed of mental arithmetic.

         

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        Gryffkin, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 1:36pm

        Re: Re:

        But does that make her any smarter, or just faster at arithmetic? I feel like knowledge and understanding increase exponentially with the advent of technology.

         

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      Vincent Clement, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 10:16am

      Re:

      Yes, because using vague terms such as "many cases" and "far too many cases" shows your grasp of math. Exactly how many is "many cases" and "far too many cases"?

      /grouchy off

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 10:23am

        Re: Re:

        Work in a public school for 6 years and watch kids try and do the math in this sentence:

        Jim has fifteen hundred dollars and has agreed to give three fifths of that Dave at three percent interest for one month, how much money will Jim have when Dave pays him back.

        I watch a class of 21 kids set for 45 minutes, 4 of them took less than 10 minutes, the rest couldn't finish.

         

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          SMARTASS, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 11:09am

          Re: Re: Re:

          AT MONTHLY INTEREST HE WOULD HAVE 27 EXTRA DOLLARS

           

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          hegemon13, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 11:21am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Hmm, hope I'm not insulting you personally, but that sounds more like a case of bad teachers than intruding technology. Hopefully, their previous techers were the problem, as you seem to see/care enough to be concerned about it.

          However, the problem is not even complete. You say 3% interest. Is that the APR or is it the monthly interest? Simple or compound? Compounded monthly, weekly, daily, continuosly?

           

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          GeneralEmergency (profile), Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 12:20pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Maybe the problem is that most of this kids watch their parents closely and know that Dave has absolutely no intention of paying Jim back.

           

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    stock market blog, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 9:30am

    hmm

    Saudi Arabia has already boosted its production by 300,000 barrels a day, or about 3 percent, to 9.45 million barrels a day last month. But that has had little impact on soaring prices. Oil futures in New York have gained more than 40 percent this year. They rose 2 percent to $134.62 a barrel before the meeting on Friday. very interesting: Will the market implode or rally?? http://www.wallstreetjournal.com/story/market_implode_or_rally?

     

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    some old gy, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 9:32am

    PArt of being smart

    Part of being smart is knowing when its better to know how to find information, as opposed to trying to memorize everything. Opt for understanding, not memorization. You can always look up the details later, as long as you understand the fundamentals. As google, et ali, get better, this becomes an even more powerful way to enhance our wisdom, thus making us by far smarter than we have ever been before.

     

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    Alimas, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 9:48am

    If Mr. Carr is so worried...

    ...he should be focusing on our educational system which presses blind memorization over understanding and the encouragement of abstract thought.

    The internet is no more destructive to one's thinking capabilities than having an Encyclopedia Brittannica set and a notepad and pencil both available in the livingroom of one's home.

     

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    Overcast, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 10:03am

    Yeah #1..

    Carr's piece was sort of the modern equivalent of parents from a generation ago worrying about kids using calculators in school and forgetting how to do math. Of course, that didn't happen

    Go to a gas station - buy something and tell the attendant you want the balance from $20.00 on pump 5 or something. 75% of the time they will stare at you in horror, 75% of the time, I do the math for them - you'd be amazed at how many people will be surprised when it comes out on an even dollar amount... "Oh wow, exactly 20 bucks!" - lol

     

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      Rose M. Welch, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 1:14pm

      Re:

      So? The ability to solve complex math problems in your head is neat, but not very useful in most professions. What's important is that I know the theory behind the math, so that I can solve any problem with abundant or limited resources, be it calculator or finger in the dirt.

      It's sad to see someone that can multiply anything by nine, but can't express an algebraic equation of a real-life problem.

      For instance... A wedding set might be 2,499.00 minus a 10% military discount plus sales tax (8.5% in Lawton, OK) plus sizing at 21.95 per size for two and a half sizes. You want to put it on layaway? Alright, fifteen percent down and six equal payments, sizing charge due at pick-up. What's the total price, the down payment, how many months will it actually be on layaway, and how much is due at pick-up?

      Send answers to rose_welch@yahoo.com. :)

      That problem is nothing compared to credit card math. Or even mortgage math.

      My point is that you can't keep all the answers in your head. You just need to know how to get to the answers. In math, you need to know some theory and have the reasoning skills for the rest. In most informational subjects, you need to know how to use the Internet ten times more than you need to know how to use the Dewey Decimal System.

      But they don't have a 'How To Use The Internet & Vet Your Results For Trustworthiness' in any public school I've ever seen...

       

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    Home grown..., Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 10:06am

    Missing something...

    Where it is true about the calculator allowing us to more complex math, the skills that people used to have (you know, the ability to subtract for change from a $20 at the grocery store) has definitely decreased. The truth is that most people don't the complex math day to day, only the simple stuff.

    Likewise, the internet may be holding all the details for us so we may be able to concentrate on other things... That is a good thing. However, the basic skillset of remembering the details is growing dimmer. And this can have negative side effects as well including more difficulties thinking on our feet in real life (such as business meetings, etc).

    Furthermore, the argument that people will have less of a "base" to draw from may or may not hold a certain amount of validity since people walk around with just the general info that they need, and missing the details.

     

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      hegemon13, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 11:33am

      Re: Missing something...

      Oops, didn't finish.

      In addition, the lack of a machine to do math for a cashier automatically weeded out the ones who could not do the math. If you couldn't do math, you would be missing money, and you would lose your job.

      Now, the register does all the work, so pretty much anyone can run one. Therefore, people who really can't do mental math can continue to work as a cashier. That does not indicate that fewer people are capable of doing basic arithmetic.

      Indeed, it has allowed grocery stores to operate more effectively, with lower losses due to error and more ability to detect theft.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 12:42pm

        Re: Re: Missing something...

        "However, the problem is not even complete. You say 3% interest. Is that the APR or is it the monthly interest? Simple or compound? Compounded monthly, weekly, daily, continuosly?"

        You're reading too much into it. The point of a simple problem like this is to solve it with the information you have, not to complain that there are other possible solutions based on other variables.

        "Now, the register does all the work, so pretty much anyone can run one."

        You would be surprised. Just because someone can 'get by' doesn't mean they will ever be proficient in their job without basic skills. Then again, the world needs ditch diggers too, right?

         

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          hegemon13, Jun 24th, 2008 @ 6:56am

          Re: Re: Re: Missing something...

          "You're reading too much into it..."

          No, I'm not. There is not enough information to solve the problem. Simple interest can be assumed unles it is specified as compound, but the interest term must be specified.

          I understand your poiint, though, depite the fact that you completely ignored mine. My point was that it is a case of bad teaching, not intruding technology. It is a simple enough problem that if the student does not know how to approach it on paper, neither a calculator nor a computer is going to help them.

          "You would be surprised. Just because someone can 'get by' doesn't mean they will ever be proficient in their job without basic skills."

          I didn't say they would be. However, just because someone is bad at math does not mean they can't be good at other aspects of cashiering, namely customer service. My point was that we see cashiers that are bad at math now because the technology allows it, not necessarily because there are fewer people capable of doing mental math.

           

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    jimmy " the grenade" whodunnit, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 11:10am

    Math smath

    Having all these "tools" at our disposal does not make us stupider (Yes, I know stupider is not a real word.)
    Should we still be writing letters in cursive? Why, we now have email and texting. A much faster way to get messages to people.
    Should we still be listening to CDs? Why we now have mp3 players which we can store 1000s of songs and bring them anywhere.
    Should we still be reading the newspaper?Going to the Library?
    Why, we now have all the news stories on the web(and yes not all true) but there is infinite amounts of knowledge to be attained from the internet.
    My basic point is, just because the world evolves, and things are invented to ease our lifestyles, does not mean it a bad thing.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 11:46am

    "If we can train ourselves to ignore easily accessible data, and leave our brains to focus on more important tasks, then it's quite possible that technology can enable people to do much more complex thinking."

    Hmm, I don't agree with that, not in every case anyway. More advanced knowledge almost always relies on you knowing the more basic knowledge to begin with. Skipping or forgetting the basic stuff would kind of be like try to start a car rolling in third gear, which typically doesn't work very well, if at all.

    Now as far as the grocery store cashier scenario goes, I agree that the automated cash registers allow for more efficient operation and help prevent fraud and errors. However, you always have to consider the effect that would occur if the technology were to disappear (i.e. power goes out). Back in time a ways, cashiers would be able to pull out a pencil and pad of paper and start figuring out how much to charge. Too many people nowadays would fail miserably if robbed of their precious technology. Of course, one could argue that if we lose all our technology in an EMP blast or something, we're gonna have a lot bigger problems to worry about than cashiers in a grocery store.

    The bottom line is that technology can be a great tool, but becoming too reliant on it can be just as dangerous as it is useful.

     

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    Michael Long, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 11:48am

    RE the "grenade"

    "Why, we now have all the news stories on the web (and yes not all true) but there is infinite amounts of knowledge to be attained from the internet."

    There ARE infinite amounts of knowledge. Plural. Not "is". And stupider isn't a word. "Tend to make us stupid," would have sufficed.

    All of which tends to illustrate the point. Too many developers, for example, have never read a book on their chosen language. Instead, they rely are trial and error and quick searches on the web in order to solve problems.

    Smart? Maybe. But in actuality there are many things they don't know, and worse, they don't know that they don't know them. And they can't look those procedures or functions up, because they don't even know they exist.

    Many comments have focused on the concept that "it's better to understand than memorize". Which is true.

    But how are we supposed to KNOW that you understand those concepts, and aren't simply too lazy to learn?

     

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    Eric, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 12:45pm

    Roots of technophobia

    I suppose in the early 1700s, scholars were complaining that students no longer had to calculate trajectories the long way, now that calculus was available...

     

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    Gryffkin, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 1:40pm

    In the end, technology is a tool, just like pen and paper. Should we still be using sticks in the dirt? Of course not. The intelligent will be able to efficiently utilize the internet and other technologies to their advantage, while those who are not so intelligent will continue to fall behind by using technology as a crutch.

     

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    Hua Fang, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 5:36pm

    it is about " direct understanding exchange"

    A new version of "Turing Test" + Wolfram's new NKS "New Kind of Science will address in-depth all concerns described above. You can read NKS from Wolfram; and the new version of "Turing Test" on this web page: http://codonology.com/_mgxroot/page_10735.html

    Welcome your comments.

     

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    BR, Jun 23rd, 2008 @ 10:05pm

    Is it math, or just common sense?

    Today I owed the doctor $15. I had a couple 20s and a 5, so I gave the clerk a 20. She said "I only have 10s, can you pay by check?" I handed her the 5. She was dumbfounded by this, even after agreeing that 25-10=15. She had to get another worker to concur before giving me a 10.

    She's not particularly young or old, probably around 40. Surely there was a calculator handy, but I don't know that it would have helped.

     

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    Yvonne, Jun 24th, 2008 @ 8:04am

    original article will-always....

    After reading the article and the responses to the article (thank you, Hegemon 13, for your coherent sentence structures) I wish to input into the discussion.
    It is true that the computer and the internet are tools. It can also be true that by virtue of the fact that these tools access information more readily and quickly than our brain does, as tools, they may provide the opportunity for us to move into more creative and complex means of acquiring information.
    However, intellectual understanding is not the only form of intelligence or learning. All of our senses play into our learning process. How many of you have a memory of learning something from someone that you loved? How many of you have memories that are associated with smells? How many of you have a memory that was caused because you were inspired by the topic? How many of you have memories that were created because of a painful experience?
    When someone merely has to click a button and ask a question to get an answer, and, because of recognizing the fact that all they have to do is click that button and ask the same question to get the answer again, need make no effort to retain the information, then that information will never truly be acquired. As more and more people use these tools to acquire the information they need for their paper or their presentation or to get an answer to a question immediately, they may appear to be an expert, but that knowledge has not become a part of them. When they find themselves in a situation where they need to call on that information (and they just happen not to have their laptop) they won't be able to access the information.
    Worse, what if someone (like a Rupert Murdoch) decides to fool around with the information that people acquire (thank God we are still mere mortals!)? With a lack of emotional knowledge, the adage that history has a tendency to repeat itself will more dangerously become a reality. Look how the media was played regarding the Iraqi war (existing, as they do, from one sound bite to another, where reporters access immediate information and then relay it without thought or legwork research)?
    By the way, my argument does not mean I am a proponent for the educational system that is in place, which, as clearly indicated from the responses to this article, leaves a lot to be desired.

     

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