A Brave New World of Knowledge
O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it!
While driving down a Southern California freeway recently, my son and I observed a billboard promotion of a major league baseball team. After some debate on which featured player was on the advertisement, we exited the freeway, picked up my “smartphone,” and consulted the Oracle. Not the classical antiquity, nor the modern software firm; but rather the postmodern, one touch, voice activated, portal to an eternity of information—my Google App.
“Number 16, Los Angeles Dodgers,” I spoke loudly into the speaker of the phone, half irritated at the possibility of my son already having the correct answer and half uncertain that it would translate my words exactly as I spoke them. I anxiously anticipated the results of my quick search. Within a few moments my fears were confirmed; my son was right.
“But what position does he play?” I grasped for one last shot at redemption.
“Not sure about that,” the ten year old was finally humbled. “Somewhere in the outfield, I think.”
“Right Field to be precise!” I proudly proclaimed, feeling useful for something. He, of course, shook his head in disgust at how happy I was to know something more about Andre Either than he did. I’m sure what was more appalling to him was that I needed the help of my iPhone to gain a knowledge advantage over a ten year old.
Yet, I knew it wasn’t really my knowledge, just an ability to quickly link to a world of information. It has become easier than ever to access nearly any piece of information imaginable.
The whole experience made me stop for a moment, and wonder how my grandfather, an avid Dodger fan, would have known exactly who it was, when he played, what position he played, as well as his batting average since his rookie season—and a whole lot more. This incident came immediately to mind when I heard about a study released last month, in Science Magazine, entitled, Google Effects on Memory, by Dr. Betsy Sparrow, which explores the changing nature of learning due to the creation of highly effective Internet search engines.
“When people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves,” Sparrow wrote.
The article then hauntingly harkened my mind back to a book I had read in my Undergraduate program in college, Aldous Huxley’s, Brave New World in which he explored a fictional world that was loaded with miles of information, but lived by people that had an inch of depth in knowledge. Through his narrative, Huxley was able to use the setting and characters from his science fiction novel to express fears over the eventual loss of personal excellence in the expedienancy of a future world.
While Google is an extremely helpful tool to get us information, when we and, where we need it; I fear that we may be missing something more. If we rely only on Google for our learnings about people, new concepts, ideas, or philosophies, without exploring them more intimately, than we may fall prey to trivial pursuits of information, not a dedicated quest for knowledge and intimacy.
At home, at work, or at play, let us remain dedicated to the quest for knowledge by engaging the information we seek, and applying it to our higher pursuits. You might even want to take the time to Google the phrase,
“Two Tickets. Dodger Stadium. First Base Side”