Are we getting smarter because we have increased access to knowledge on account of search engines in our pockets?
In 1974 when someone said “I wonder why…” we had to conduct ourselves differently compared with the process now. To have this question answered, if nobody in the immediate vicinity happened to know the answer, it required at the least a trip to the bookshelf to scroll through the “World Book” encyclopaedia. If you were not lucky enough to own this generous albeit culturally biased tome then a trip to the library was in order.
What if the question was just one of those, it would be nice to know kind of things but it’s not really worth a great deal of effort to find out the answer… The question would quickly recede into the back of your mind and be filed in the “I wonder why” folder full of similar interesting questions that had been slowly forgotten.
We learn well what we are interested in. This is qualified by the fact that we are interested in things here and now but later may not be as interested if at all (humans are fickle creatures). Perhaps the question loses context and therefore is easily forgotten in lieu of there being no answer that has been paired with the question. This scenario represents a small lost opportunity. Add many of these small lost opportunities together and you are left with a great deal of missed knowledge.
Contrast the above scenario to now… “I wonder why…” Hang on a second I’ll Google it – phone out of pocket, answer forthcoming, conversation ensues… Knowledge gained and consolidated in the heat of the moment. Knowledge gained in this way can happen many times a day.
Perhaps this won’t make us smarter but we will definitely know more. Of course this new ability will benefit younger generations more than older generations. Think of all the years of lost opportunities that kids now never miss out on. They have grown up in a world where they can’t imagine not being able to Google something. They stare blankly when you tell them about a world with no internet, no mobile phones and no browsers. My son explained how a glow worm glows last night. “Wow Akira” says I… “Where did you learn that?”, “Google” he says, with a why would you ask that tone? Isn’t it obvious?