The New Knowledge Of The Digital Age
Knowledge is of two kinds: either we know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it.
The net opens access to an infinite library of easily and quickly retrievable information, accessible just by typing a few keywords. It functions as a sort of external hard drive, an outsourced memory we can plug in at any time.
Because of this, some have argued that the net dilutes the most traditional kind of knowledge: knowing a subject ourselves. It therefore makes our brains shallow, diminishing our intelligence and killing our inner memory.
But is this really true? Or should we evolve in our understanding of what brain power and memory are?
If you are in your thirties and forties, you probably remember that when you were a teenager you knew by heart the phone number of your closest friends. Since the introduction of digital directories, smartphones and services like plaxo there is no longer any reason to memorize numbers by heart. On the other hand, how many contacts do you have now compared to then thanks to the digital directories? How much more connected are you?
Yes, it’s true – the magic of the information age is not that it allow us to know more, but that it allows us to know less, in terms of depth of what we know, as mentioned by David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, in his famous 2006 NY Times article “The Outsourced Brain.”
The positive side of this is that we are free to expand our awareness of subjects we did not have space, or availability, to explore before. Our memory now has a different function: it is an index, it remembers the existence of a subject and what are the best leads to find information on that subject.
You don’t need to memorize the content of a book, you just need to be aware of the existence of a book. Although this might make your middle school English teacher cringe, it is time to stop identifying ourselves with our memory and start seeing it as a flexible tool of the brain, which does not necessarily need to be contained within the brain it serves.Continued on the next page