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Value in information or value in thought?

Steve Culley asked (by email) for my views on an article in the Guardian titled, I Google, therefore I am losing the ability to think. A related article, Hits and misses, was contributed by Mansur Darlington.

Personally, my memory for simple facts has been degrading and that has been noted by my friends and family… I don't think I'm yet at a point where I can put that down to my age. I can, however, still enjoy losing myself in a book, or following an article or report through its arguments. I don't agree that the consequences of Google include the degradation of our ability to think or really pose some fundamental threat to our intelligence.

I've always thought one of the most fundamental tools humans possess is extelligence. Is the WWW as an information carrier fundamentally different to the older methods: books, scrolls, tablets, stele and cave walls? I would say it has just become easier to rely on – more accessible.

The ability to assess the validity and bias of sources, interpret arguments and construct concepts is separate to that. The WWW (and current search technology) make it harder by increasing the potential sources by several magnitudes. I think that just argues for better teaching of soft skills. At no point in my education have I been instructed on how to search any form of information, I have never been taught how to classify, I have never been taught the importance of providing a chain of references. I think it is usually assumed that the individual should pick this up in the course of their education… I think most people do, but many do not. The greater the field of information to draw on the more crucial these skills become.

Posted on 25 Jun 2008

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