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    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2010
  1.  (8905.2)
    An actual link and the lead.

    How good software makes us stupid

    Imagine for a moment that you have thumbed a ride in one of London's iconic black cabs.

    "Where to, guv?" he asks, in typical cockney-twang. You tell him.

    "No problem - let me just enter that into my sat-nav…"

    It sounds unnatural, almost deceitful, that any self-respecting London cabbie would ever utter those words.

    After all, a taxi driver's ability to know every twist and turn of the capital's streets is the stuff of legend.

    It's not optional - unless drivers pass a formidable test - called "The Knowledge" - they are not allowed to head out onto the roads in one of the iconic vehicles.

    But with satellite-navigation technology now well established as a cheap, reliable way of being shown the way ahead, one expert has warned that we could actually lose the intellectual capacity to remember vast amounts of information - such as tricky routes through the capital city.
  2.  (8905.3)
    Meanwhile someone consults the internet to find book titles necessary to their MA, and another studies advanced guitar theory off a website for their hobby.

    Also is it just me or does this guy really hate Google? Doesn't even bother to mention another search engine whose consequences on the brain would surely be identical/similar.
  3.  (8905.4)
    This guy's been promoting this theory (and marketing the book) for some time now. From what I've read it's not really backed up by any sound logic and carefully cherry-picks pieces of academic research that - out of context - can be used to back up the theory. Bad Science.

    Still, the author obviously knows how to write soundbites that journalists rush to cut-and-paste without question. But that's more a comment on contemporary mainstream journalism than the author.

    Edit. It's just another "kids these days are thick because of [new technology]" rant, the first example of which that I can find comes from Plato who complained that this new-fangled "writing" technology would make us stupid:

    If men learn [writing], it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.
  4.  (8905.5)
    I'm having a time out until I can learn some manners.
    reminds me of teachers in the 1970s telling us that pocket calculators would make us all stupid and hasten the demise of civilization . . . .

    technology serves to liberate us from donkey work, be that physical or mental allowing us to use the extra capacity to explore more abstract and conceptual aspects of the world surely?
    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2010
    The fundamental thing this article does not address is *opportunity cost*.

    I've been a computer consultant in Boston for ten years, usually two appointments per day, all over the area. When I first got here in 2000, I carried a map book and printed off directions. That daily preparation took at least a half hour per day.

    Now that I'm *not* obliged to constantly do that mental donkey work (well put), it isn't like I'm just stuffing that extra time with mental junk food. That's time I can now actually use to keep current on the daily flood of information that is IT consulting.

    I've seen what happens to the older consultants - they're forced to specialize in one relatively narrow area, because they just can't keep up. I myself am striving to still remain a generalist. I try to do *more* with IT than just memorize FAQ's and search knowledgebases, but actually work from first principles and root causes. Going through the process of acquiring "the Knowledge" would require me to knock out something *else*, not actually develop my skills in any meaningful way.
  5.  (8905.7)
    Finagle, I think you'll find as you become one of those "older consultants" that you've had to specialize too. Except for the rare supergenius, no one can successfully keep up with everything in a field as broad and complex as computer technology in the long term. When you're 50-60 employers/clients won't indulge you to work out a problem from first principles; they'll expect that you've encountered their problem before, and already know the solution.
    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2010
    *shrug* You misunderstand, but more than one reply to this is going to get way off topic.

    I'm not opposing being narrow and deep with being broad and deep. I'm an integrator and support engineer; my job is to be broad and shallow, and know where to go to get more resources. This is going to be increasingly important as stuff moves off into the cloud, and IT becomes much more about managing the overall quality of service delivery, infrastructure and project management.

    To return to the point of the article: My observation is that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Narrow and deep specialization is not necessarily a desirable trait in the modern IT environment, or even business in general, when it comes to overall project management and continuty of service. When figuring out a problem with email delivery, the Exchange guy will focus on Exchange. The security guy will focus on possible virus activity. The Active Directory guy will start looking at AD. What is *needed* are people who can, in fact, be broad but shallow and be able to get all the blind men together and figure out yes, it *is* an elephant.

    And the point of the article runs counter to that.
  6.  (8905.9)
    My mental donkey got a cold and then died after it ate a mysterious turnip that had smiling Audrey Hepburn's face on it and the caption "Don't yell at dentists".
    • CommentAuthorSolario
    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2010
    Isn't the whole point of technology to make menial work easier? Some people will inevidably still prefer the long and hard way, but there's no reason we should force everyone to do it that way.
  7.  (8905.11)
    The catch is with Plato, he was likely *right*. Writing does do something to the brain that we don't understand. One of the reasons that epic oral storytelling has died off in much of the world is that someone who is literate loses the ability to memorize vast amounts of information in the same way that an illiterate bard can. Milman Parry's work in Yugoslavia was well-timed; a generation after he made his recordings, the Soviets instituted a program of literacy training across the entire nation, and the epics vanished. Studies have been done on the Indian variety of illiterate bard, known as the Bhopa, where those who previously had been able to recite entire epics lost the ability to do so when taught to read and write.
  8.  (8905.12)
    The catch is with Plato, he was likely *right*. Writing does do something to the brain that we don't understand.

    But the thing, with both Plato and Carr, is that Writing/Software/The Internet don't make us "stupid" (as Carr claims) - they just allow us to be intelligent in a more efficient way within the environment we exist in. They all remove (as BettyBoolean said) the donkey work - the storage, aggregation, and selection of data - and allow us to spend more time on using that data.

    So, if we accept the theory that the way our brains work with information shapes our cognitive processes, then our brains are moving away from being focused on data retention and selection, and are moving towards being focused on data analysis - working with the facts and producing results. That's anything but "stupid".
    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2010
    @bettyboolean are you suggesting that civilisation <em>hasnt</em> demised?

    its not an all or nothing good or bad choice - technology will change how we think in ways we cant easily define as good or bad.
  9.  (8905.14)
    Seems like different stuff is supposed to be scary.

    Different stuff doesn't really scare me, though. So instead of remembering how to do a thing using pen and paper, I remember how to it using a computer? It seems like this guy is just noticing that we're changing skill sets.

    Robots made my kitchen knives. As a result, I don't know how to make knives from flint. Is this a problem? Did robots make me stupid?
  10.  (8905.15)
    @John Skylar: Yes. Now they can carve up your puny fleshy body with their special robot-made knives.
    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2010
    I am so glad to hear other people having the same issues with Carr that I did. A few days ago, I tried to listen to him give an interview and had to give up. He's read up on something that fascinates me (scriptura continua and its evolution into separated words) and seems to have a completely different take on it and how its effected humans and their, what? betterness, I guess. (The fact that he has read about this, as I have is more motivation for me to speak with respect about other people's legitimate research instead of trying to make it oily and sweaty for my own purposes.)

    The thing that I remember getting from his article in Atlantic was that there are fewer and fewer reasons to learn how to ask good questions and how to ask them well. Now that I've heard him actually speak I realize that it may not have even been an intentional point.

    I get that there will always be people who are fashionably opposed to fashion. It's a personality type.
    I am mostly offended that there are several really interesting conversations lying just beneath the veneer of this guy's rhetoric which is so slick and shiny that they are just being neglected.

    We have not yet lost our ability to learn.
    Once technology takes that away, then we're screwed. From my point of view.
  11.  (8905.17)
    I haven't read anything stating that learning to read and write removes your ability to memmorize things; merely that people who can read and write are less likely to because the skill is less necessary when they can just write something down; and with less use, becomes less developed.

    David Matthew- could you provide a link showing an incident where a person who was previously illiterate and knew a vast sum of memorized work had 'lost' that work after learning how to read/write? I'm curious.
  12.  (8905.18)
    I'm having a time out until I can learn some manners.
    <blockquote>@bettyboolean are you suggesting that civilisation <em>hasnt</em> demised?</blockquote>

    @eDave well I guess that's a subjective call . . . LOL

    but nah, its changed, and hey, I'm old enough to remember tables of logarithms <a href="">tables of logarithms</a>

    now tell me you'd rather be using those than a calculator
  13.  (8905.19)
    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2010
    The most valuable thing my audio professor ever told me was a paraphrase of the following:

    "The only thing I want you to memorize in this class is the speed of sound. [At sea level, it's about 1128 ft/s, give or take given temperature.] Everything else--mic specs, equations, conversions, everything--I would like you to learn, but I'm more interested in you recognizing it and being able to find it when you need it. That way you can focus on your job--making good-sounding performances and recordings--and worry about all that technical shit only when you need to."

    Even really smart people have to look shit up once in a while. Instantaneous access to the combined knowledge of the entire developed world seems like a pretty good way to increase one's intelligence.