A recent editorial in the Independent has inspired me to consider a vital question about the relationship between technology and education here on the Htet Tayza blog. Is technology making us stupid?
I’ll Google it
The rise of technology has provided us with a thousand thousand new ways to access the information that we need to live our lives. They have given us all the information we could ever want at the touch of a button.
We’ve all been there; we’ve been talking to a friend or colleague and found ourselves suddenly grasping for an elusive piece of information. A few years ago, we’d have had to go to a library to hunt down what we needed to know; now we can just “Google” it on our smartphones, and arrive at the answer almost instantaneously.
Why am I describing this as a negative consequence of the rise of technology? Isn’t it a good thing that we can access essential information more conveniently? Yes, but the article suggests that we’re coming to rely on these technologies far too much, and that this is decreasing our intelligence.
It goes on to quote a shocking study conducted by The Kaspersky Lab on the “Google Effect.” It shows that 90% of people experience “digital amnesia,” a term used to describe the loss of technical knowledge due to the rapid advancement of technology. It also proved that over 70% of people can’t remember their child’s phone number, whilst 49% can’t even remember their partner’s number.
This is the Google Effect; the idea that we know that answers are just a click away, and are happy to treat the web like a part of our own memory. The article debates whether this means that the internet is making us stupid, and it presents a variety of good points. However, it’s the point of Dr Maria Wimber, the lecturer at the University of Birmingham’s School of Psychology who worked on the research with Kaspersky Lab, which I want to look at.
Wimber says that the internet has changed the way we store and handle information. She notes that the Google Effect “makes us good at remembering where to find a given bit of information, but not necessarily what the information was. It is likely to be true that we don’t attempt to store information in our own memory to the same degree that we used to, because we know that the internet knows everything.”
Professor Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University agreed with Wimber. She explained: “Our brains rely on the internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker. We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found.”
Measures of intelligence
This leads me to believe that the internet isn’t making us stupid, it’s just making us intelligent in a different way. Once upon a time we believed that recitation, saying a fact over and over again, was the only way to learn, and we needed to as in that world, many people needed to be able to remember obscure facts at the drop of a hat.
How can we use this as an accurate benchmark in 2015; we don’t need to recite facts to ourselves over and again anymore, as they’re easy to find. The benchmark we should be using to measure intelligence in 2015 is research skills; in the modern era, it’s vital that people possess effective research skills so they can track down vital information under pressure.