01 February 2013

Intelligence in the Google Era

Random musings of a headachey mind.

Intelligence seems, to me, to be made up of two discrete parts: memory and critical thinking. Without a good memory, one's critical thinking will never have enough data to make accurate deductions; without critical thinking, one cannot make sense of what's stored in the memory.

I've always had a pretty good memory, just naturally, which I'm thankful for. I think my personal intelligence is built primarily on that--while I'm fairly good with basic logic (so my performance on geometry proofs in high school would seem to testify), and always did well with things like reading comprehension, mostly I just remember a lot of things. So when a topic comes up, there's something related I remember that I can bring to the table. I also could, in school, pick up languages' vocab without tons of specific studying, provided I practice enough, and could memorize text fairly quickly.

But more and more those skills are fading in me--in the world, too. Google is becoming our memory. With my android phone in my pocket, what need do I have to remember random facts or dates or exact quotes of things when I can just look them up right away?

Some people will say google is making us dumber. I'm not sure about that, though. I do think the cloud can impair our memories, as we grow more comfortable forgetting what can easily be recalled later, externally. But critical thinking? Figuring out what search terms to use to pull something up can be an example thereof. Googling a problem and finding people with similar-but-slightly-different problems and parsing through the results for a unique solution...? Critical thinking. Piecing together various blog narratives and arguments into one cohesive whole? Trying to separate fact from fiction, deal from scam, exaggeration from understatement, in a world where every voice has its own slice of cyberspace to shout in? Requires critical thinking.

Intelligence is becoming less and less about who can memorize the biggest swathes of Shakespeare or Homer and more about who can better sort through a flood of information, fishing out the valuable and ignoring the rest.
Just some thoughts. Memory is, of course, an invaluable asset, and I've got it in mind to try new techniques to improve mine as I see it slipping into disrepair. But memory is not the only important aspect to intelligence.


1 comment:

  1. (I keep meaning to comment on previous posts, I just keep forgetting...)

    I rather agree. At this point, memory is becoming less of a necessity and more of a virtue, which makes sense to me, because it's both. Just requires a bit of extra effort.

    And having a search engine at one's disposal really does develop certain skills. It makes me stop and consider the fact that some people will ask me a question, get a Googled answer from me, and express amazement, because they weren't able to find anything from Google.

    I'm also reminded of "The Design of Everyday Things", where the author points out that we take in a lot of information from our environment. The skill of opening a door, for instance, can be derived from the very design of many doors and handles, even if we hadn't memorized how to work a door.