Thursday, July 31, 2008

Leaving knowledge to the Internet

Marshall McLuhan, as I’ve noted before, wrote about how technology creates what he called “extensions of man.” The car is an extension of the foot, the telephone is an extension of the voice, the radio is an extension of the ear.

The internet is turning out to be an extension of the collective memory. That’s good and bad. We have come to rely on the Web as a ready source of information, but it has also become a reason not to retain knowledge personally. If some fact is a click or two away, why do we have to remember it?

I sense that I am experiencing this approach to knowledge with my students. They assimilate less and less because they know that it is readily available to them on-line. The result is that if you ask them a question and they don’t have ready access to their Internet “memory chips,” they draw a blank. Carried to its extreme, they are prevented from thinking on their own without the aid of their computers.

Mark Bauerlein, in his book “The Dumbest Generation, (How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future)” concludes, “The Dumbest Generation cares little for history books, civic principles, foreign affairs, comparative religions, and serious media and art, and it knows less.”

I disagree that the “Millennial Generation,” as it has been called, “cares little” about the above. They DO care, sometimes passionately, but because of their reliance on the Internet, they haven’t absorbed knowledge about their concerns, and so can’t and don’t converse readily about them.

In a sense they are literally “dumb.” They can’t speak for their lack of assimilated knowledge.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Coach said...

I got my first pocket calculator when I was in high school (I still have it!) We were not allowed to use them in class and we didn't understand that.

I now carry around a Blackberry that is smaller than that first calculator and does so much more. On my former smart phone I needed a lot of memory, because all of my applications were carried on the phone. Now, the Blackberry is light and quick. It is designed to access everything I could ever need from the Internet.

In fact, as I was sitting in a discussion group the other day, someone asked a question. While others opined various answers, I googled and came back with a factual answer before the group was able to decide on an answer.

I have GPS, phone, instant messaging (in about four formats), email, and access to one trillion web pages world wide.

Now, I can tune out the conversations around me and go back to being an introverted nerd. Tune out my family and converse with people whom I barely know. Tune out the small group and dig for the right answer.

Hmmmmm....

How soon before kids are allowed to use their Blackberry in class?

7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Coach & Rick,

There is hope...I hope...

I've been contemplating on your discussions for the last two days and I was saddened by the realities both of you presented.

I'm probably one of the disappearing patrons of conventional learning mediums. Meaning I prefer hard copies like books, address books, and written notes rather than gizmos. I find it more reliable to have control of information with my fingertips turning the page. In fact, it is to my conviction that papers are more environmental friendly than the use of electricity. Even with "paperless" propaganda, the amount of trees cut down by factories to produce paper is less affected by the cause.

Going back to the thought, last night, I went to see a movie at Bridgeport Village and was unfortunate to be caught in a 20 minute human traffic snarl towards the premise's 50 meter exit. The reason - a midnight book launching (a book by Stephen Meyers[?]). This was attended to by young teenagers aged 11-18 of which I estimated numbered to about 300+ (the sales people were calling for number "187").

I remembered your discussions and concerns as I stared at the herd - all eager to have made that "sacrifice" to avail of the book. Yet, Mark Bauerlein's conclusion still bothered me.

I guess there is hope, but all that is needed for writers is to evolve their styles that would catch the interest of this "pop culture", and successfully inject history, perhaps trivia, and moral values into their work.

6:47 AM  

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