Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Is Remembering Facts Obsolete?

There seem to be a lot of human skills that are now obsolete because technology performs them for us. These include skills like spelling (helped by spellchecker), handwriting (via typing) and fact remembering (can easily search anything on the Internet; possibly this will be an internally embedded device directly accessible to the brain at some future point) to name a few.

On one hand, it is nice to be rid of an ever-increasing tier of lower level skills not requiring high cognition, but on the other hand, does this change our definition of what it is to be human? Do we need to remember how to spell as a backup in case we aren't online typing something? Does the value of the old skills go up as a backlash response? How do we next define humanness and distinguish human capability?

Skills like remembering facts used to be measuring sticks for people to gauge intelligence and capability just like witty storytelling and oration won friends and status before the mass media era of television and radio. We now have the opportunity to evolve new methods and customs for judging and signaling capability, and with a shift in focus on what it is to be smart and capable, maybe we can also shift our collective value system to be less judgmental and focus on the unique values of everyone.

Tools and technology allow us to spend more time in higher tiers of cognition, the specific activities of which are less tangible to describe. Some of the distinguishing capabilities we can strive for are progressing up the chain from data...turning data into information, synthesizing information to generate comprehensive descriptions of existing material and creating new ideas and complex thoughts.