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Your Brain on Google

I liked these musings from Peter Suderman:

Reading on the web is almost certainly affecting the way we process information, but it’s not making us stupid. Instead, it’s changing the way we’re smart. Rather than storehouses of in-depth information, the web is turning our brains into indexes. These days, it’s not what you know — it’s what you know you can access, and cross reference.

In other words, books taught us to think like they do — as tools for storing extensive knowledge. Now the web teaches us to think like it does — as a tool for recall and connection. We won’t be so good at memorizing everything there is to know about a particular small-bore topic, but we’ll be a lot better at knowing what there is to be known about the broader category the topic fits into, and what other information might provide insight and context.

You can, of course, overstate the novelty of this. People forget most of what they read in a book. (One editor I know complained about forgetting what he'd written in previous books.) I mark up my books ferociously. The hope is that my brain is a good enough index to remember which books are useful and where I'd marked the important passages.

In that way, I wonder whether our brains aren't becoming less like indexes and more like librarians. The situation isn't quite as Peter presents it: The key skill isn't knowing where to find information. It's knowing where to find where to find information. It's understanding connector terms and knowing the relative specialties of different search engines and finding the best aggregators and possessing ninja-level skills with Nexis. We don't need to learn to think like Google. We need to learn how to help Google think.

By Ezra Klein  |  May 19, 2009; 8:05 AM ET
 
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Comments

what would marcel proust think of this?
there is connecting with information....
and then, there is connecting with imagination.

Posted by: jkaren | May 19, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

this post reminded me of a short story by jorge luis borges, called "funes, the memorious."
funes had fallen off of a horse and suddenly began to remember every detail of his life.
"funes not only remembered every leaf in every tree of every wood, but even every one of the times he had perceived or imagined it. he determined to reduce all of his past experience to some seventy thousand recollections, which he would later define numerically.
two considerations dissuaded him. the thought that the task was interminable and the thought that it was useless."

Posted by: jkaren | May 19, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Completely off-topic, I know, but DAMN, the WaPo layout and color scheme is boring. Grey and dark blue. Zzzzzzzz.

Moving the same Ezra post from TAP to here would make it about 15% less interesting, just due to the background.

Posted by: rt42 | May 19, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

The brain is also really good at making connections (Sidenote, see show about that ). Often using deductive logic. We have memories that are often triggered by incidental coincidences. Smells, for instance have been shown to be strong triggers.

Making new knowledge, out of libraries of facts, data, and other knowledge is what we excel at, and are still trying to put into AI.

Not sure how one teaches that, though. I don't think we even know 100% effective way of inducing this process. Often dreaming, or changes of scenery have been shown to help, but this is fairly individual in nature.

Posted by: ERMFU | May 19, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of Google, the value it provides isn't just in searching. See "An Illustrative Welfare Analysis of Google Reader."

Posted by: TheIncidentalEconomist | May 19, 2009 2:13 PM | Report abuse

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