Wednesday, February 2, 2011

efficiency and inefficacy

“In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, ‘cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.’” - Nicholas Carr

This quote struck me the most from Nicholas Carr's article. In truth, it perfectly applies to the internet. It reminds me of the classic question of where one's mind resides, is it in our brain, as a physical manifestation, or somewhere else? Part of it, at least, now resides in the internet. We use the internet almost as an extension of our brains in which to store information. Why learn facts and keep them in your head when you could just look them up instantly?

The process of finding information is important in learning, though. This process is hastened on the internet to such an extreme that the process is almost nonexistence. For example, when I'm reading a book on my Kindle and don't recognize a word, I can instantly have my Kindle define it. There have been times where I get the definition of a word, only to see that word again a couple dozen pages later, then I have to have my Kindle define it…again.

Before, you would have had to try to figure it out the word’s meaning using context, like we were taught so many years ago, then make note of the word, and ultimately look it up in a dictionary. If I had actually, god forbid, picked up a dictionary and thumbed through the pages and read the definition I would have never forgotten it.

I’m sure many have written papers for class including citations for books and articles you never really read, stuff you just pulled minute amounts of information from or read a synopsis of, information you could never recall now. Imagine if the internet didn’t exist and you actually had to go to a library, get the material and read all that information? You would’ve learned a helluva lot more and you'd remember it for longer. These are, of course, examples on a tremendously small scale, but they are telling of the direction we’re moving towards.

I think having all the information of the world at our fingertips in an instant is unhealthy for us. We don’t have to work for our information anymore. We don’t have to consume large amounts of text and draw conclusions from it and analyze it, because those things are already done for us. The internet is far too efficient of a tool. As a result, we keep less in our mind, and rely on the internet to keep more for us.

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