I recently saw this on Facebook:
Written by Matthew, an 11 year old boy. He’s not being ironic. It’s an attitude that is permeating society, particularly among the young.
In a sense I think Matthew is right. We’ve never had access to such large amounts of information before so the majority of school activity suddenly feels redundant. Knowledge is almost universally available through our web-enabled mobile devices so what’s the point in trying to remember it?. If Francis Bacon was correct with his idea that “Knowledge is power”, we’re now all incredibly powerful. Except of course that businesses continue to complain that even the most accomplished students don’t have the core skills to operate effectively in the Information Age or indeed, think for themselves. It’s a sentiment described by a 2008 (pdf) report by the British Library and reiterated in this week’s publication by Northwest University (pdf). Both pieces of research draw the same conclusion – though confident, young people are not discriminating in their use of information searching – they tend to trust and use the first results that come back through Google without prejudice. Trusting Google uncritically is making us lazy and vulnerable to manipulated misinformation.
The Google-isation of human knowledge and expression is not a bad thing but there are some challenges before it achieves its full potential to empower. Knowing facts and figures is the lowest level of cognitive ability – important but not the be-all-and-end-all as some commentators would have us believe. If we’re really going to make the most of this ubiquitous library, we’ll have to start placing more emphasis on the mental skills needed to manipulate, make sense of and evaluate this wealth of information. This is where Google is a massive enabler: it frees us from the need to learn simple data and offers us the chance to concentrate on doing something useful with it instead, it releases us from merely exercising our memories to actually think.