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.
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