Posts tagged ‘culture’

September 29, 2011

Considerations on Memory vs. Internet

by stryson

Like all good nerds of my generation, I understand the many benefits to having the internet at least partially function as a gargantuan collective external memory. It’s an invaluable resource for reference, especially when one finds oneself in a room full of inquisitive fourth graders who innocently expect their teacher to be a  bottomless well of information in all subjects. It has also become essential in my life as a reference tool for pesky questions that I would not have the concrete reference materials for answering, such as measurement conversions, spice substitutions in cooking, or ways to get rid of ants, among many others. (Thank you, internet, for making me a functional householder.)

These situations all involve information that is not pertinent to my life every single day; they are generally exceptions to the rule. Finding the answers you need in a timely manner requires a certain amount of knowledge of process, and I try to impress upon my students the importance of knowing how to find the information you need, as opposed to memorizing every fact under the sun.

This is all well and good… but.

There’s a limit to the practicality of the internet. Finding trustworthy and accurate sources can be challenging, and even when they’re abundant or the question is simple, there is a certain amount of time involved to look up any answers at all. Certainly, for everyday needs, we still need to memorize a certain set of data. Allow me to offer a parallel. The child counting out all of his addition problems on his fingers will, indeed, finish his homework the same as the next child, but it may take him  three times as long.

Outside of time concerns, there’s a consideration to be made for the interest level that background knowledge provides in our lives.  Our wealth of known information directly influences more than just our reading comprehension (though it does play a huge part in that, don’t get me wrong) or our ability to spontaneously problem solve. It lends content to our everyday conversations with other people. What has historically been referred to as “common knowledge” is growing  increasingly uncommon, and our interactions suffer for it.

So what sparked my ruminations on internalizing facts versus using the internet essentially as your memory? This blog post, which I found incredibly interesting. I also now want to seek out that book and read it for myself.