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How Good Software Makes Us Stupid

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the i-are-not-dum dept.

Google 385

siliconbits writes "The BBC has an interesting article about how ever improving software damages our ability to think innovatively. 'Search engines' function of providing us with information almost instantly means people are losing their intellectual capacity to store information, Nicolas Carr said.' This sadly convinced some journos to come up with wildfire titles such as 'Google damages users' brains, author claims.'"

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News To Me (5, Insightful)

Revotron (1115029) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560754)

Right, and having a dictionary and thesaurus on my desk in easy reach is stopping me from learning new words.

Die in a fire.

Re:News To Me (5, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560802)

Right, and having a dictionary and thesaurus on my desk in easy reach is stopping me from learning new words.

IIRC, those books will help embiggen a cromulent vocabulary.

Re:News To Me (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33560984)

Jesus, I had to Google both of those words.

Re:News To Me (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33561028)

There's an app for that, you know.

Re:News To Me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33561096)

That just made me laugh.

Re:News To Me (2, Informative)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561174)

>>>embiggen a cromulent vocabulary.

IIRC my college English professors taught the big words actually interfere with communication rather than enhance it. i.e. Follow the KISS principle. Anyway this article sounds stupid. As Einstein once commented, "What is the point of memorizing information when you can look it up in a book?" He thought it was more productive to focus on actual thinking rather than rote repetition.

Re:News To Me (5, Insightful)

Tanktalus (794810) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561250)

The point of having disparate information all colocated in one person's head is to improve one's ability to form patterns, and, from those, extract hypotheses to extend those patterns (or to fill holes in those patterns). In other words, if you don't actually know something, it's hard to extend that piece of information in new areas. Memorisation isn't the goal - it's information which you then need to apply critical thinking skills against in order to produce new information.

Re:News To Me (1)

2fuf (993808) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561198)

what on earth does the Interactive Illinois Report Card have to do with that?!

More like... (5, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560914)

More like how having a spell-checker makes people never learn how to spell most words. And even with a spell-checker then you see them writing "should of" or using a wrong near-homophone (homophone, surprisingly enough, doesn't mean "sounds gay";) like "eat, drink and be marry" because if the spell-checker didn't put a wavy line under a word it must be the right one.

Or like already the use of calculator means a lot of people in the western world are effectively innumerate. They can't actually even tally up whether a 5 Euro bill is enough for two packs of X at 1.99 each and one of something else at 0.95. (And I'm only using Euro as an example because here the VAT is already _included_ in the price, you don't have to calculate how much the VAT would be on top of the price. So really, they just need to add.) Or they can't even notice that a special offer of a six-pack of something at only 5.95 Euro isn't actually an improvement over a price of 0.95 Euro per can otherwise, unless you told them to calculate and they pull out their calculator.

No, I'm serious. There actually are such special offers that sound like you could save a lot, but are actually more expensive per unit/gallon/inch/whatever. And they actually work. Because enough people can't do elementary arithmetic any more, or it ranks up there with anal rape for the kind of force or threat of harm you'd need to use to make them do arithmetic.

We had a good century or so of building up literacy and numeracy... and now it's sliding right back.

Re:More like... (3, Interesting)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560956)

What would you have whined about had you lived two centuries ago before English had standardized spelling? Or had you lived in China two thousand years ago, would you wail of the abacus making people unable to cipher?

Well... (2, Funny)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561060)

What would you have whined about had you lived two centuries ago before English had standardized spelling?

Well, if it helps, some people still seem to think that spelling something the same as everyone else is a sign of an unimaginative mind ;)

Re:More like... (3, Interesting)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561002)

Like any tool it all depends on how you use it. After I got a mac my spelling actually IMPROVED thanks to the real time spell checker built in to all applications*(ok, Cocoa applications). I could actually see my spelling errors real time and have been able to pinpoint words I frequently spell incorrectly and now I would say my spelling is better than ever before. Back in the stone age when I actually just wrote shit down I basically got 0 feedback and thus my spelling became atrocious(which I initially spelled with two ts, so obviously room for improvement :P).

As for effect calculators/computers are having on numeracy, I think you must have a very short memory :P People were complaining about this for years, well before such devices became ubiquitous. For instance I remember ALL the way back to 1990 there being this huge banner on the side of a store selling something for $2.50 or 2 for $5! What a deal!

Re:More like... (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561134)

Actually, I'm pretty sure I've seen a heck of a lot of people with calculators in 1990 and even in the 80's. The year 1990 wasn't the 1930's when "calculator" meant a big clunky mechanical machine with a crank. Cheap, four-operation calculators were, well, cheap. A good programmable scientific calculator may have been bigger and more expensive, but 4 operation calculators were already only limited by how small you can make the case and have half-blind still use it. You could get a credit card sized calculator that could slip even into the smallest purse or pocket, or, heck, you could already get one in a wristwatch. (If you were one of those unfashionable nerds, that is. Yeah, welcome to the club. ;))

And plenty of people used them. There were already housewives and whatnot who hadn't done any maths by hand or in their head in years, and, yeah, I don't doubt that enough would have already lost the reflex of multiplying 2.50 by 2.

Re:More like... (1)

cmiller173 (641510) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561176)

+1 to this. I always was a bad speller in grade school/high school. When we got a Apple //e back in 1982 and I ponied up the dough for spell checker software (which had to be run after the fact, it wasn't real time) my spelling improved greatly.

Re:More like... (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561106)

There actually are such special offers that sound like you could save a lot, but are actually more expensive per unit/gallon/inch/whatever

The supermarkets I visit here in the UK actually tell you the cost per unit of weight or volume anyway.. a simple comparison is all that's needed. I am content with this.

Re:More like... (1)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561206)

The supermarkets I visit here in the UK actually tell you the cost per unit of weight or volume anyway.. a simple comparison is all that's needed. I am content with this.

Technically, they are supposed to do the same here across the pond, and they do. Sort of. I always compare shop, but it is common to see two items side by side, and one lists the "price per ounce" while the other lists the "price per pound", forcing me to multiply by 16 to compare. This is not a rare thing either. One is 24 ounce, one is 19.2 ounces, and I'm having to do the math in my head. Fortunately, I'm decent at doing that kind of math, but most aren't. In short, it is a way to comply with the law, while still intentionally misleading consumers.

Re:More like... (2, Informative)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561314)

I can't speak for other supermarkets, but Tesco are sneaky about it. A lot of the time, two equivalent products sitting next to each other on a shelf will have the cost per weight/volume in different units - one might show cost per litre whereas the other shows cost per 100 ml.

It's not the world's most difficult task to convert (thank fuck for the EU-mandated metric system), but you do have to engage your brain in order to make a direct comparison.

Re:More like... (1)

Docboy-J23 (1095983) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561154)

Can you even correlate the deficiency in math with owning a calculator, or is this *all* just technophobic crap along the lines of claims that cell phones cause bone/brain cancer? Alarmists and cynics are a dangerous mix, especially when they become afraid of something and feel a general lack of purpose. Go back to the trees.

Re:More like... (1)

AstrumPreliator (708436) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561258)

Honestly spell checkers help me. I enjoy the system wide spell checker in OSX and it's pretty rare that I don't know how to spell a word. Thing is the spell checker system doesn't tell me what the correct spelling is (or what it thinks the correct spelling is), it just tells me what I've typed is wrong. So I generally pop open a google tab which is pretty good at suggesting the right spelling so I know how to spell it, which is great given the story I'm replying to.

I mean I know what you're saying. Having all of this technology enables people to be lazy, but some people are willing to put in the effort to better themselves. Perhaps it's because society itself allows people to be lazy with little recourse.

Re:News To Me (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560940)

If there's one thing I encounter daily that feels like it's making me stupid, it's most of the crap in any newspaper, magazine, or online news site. Just take a look around whatever site that article is on and ask yourself whether they can even recognize what they speak of.

Re:News To Me (1)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560994)

If there's one thing I encounter daily that feels like it's making me stupid, it's most of the crap in any newspaper, magazine, or online news site.

Yep, it does seem to be having that effect on you. Of course, it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, don't you think?

Re:News To Me (2, Funny)

xouumalperxe (815707) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560962)

Do you not mean "Meet your demise in a sea of flames"? Clearly, your claims of not suffering from a degraded lexical range are mere fabrications.

Re:News To Me (3, Informative)

tangelogee (1486597) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561010)

Do you not mean "Meet your demise in a sea of flames"? Clearly, your claims of not suffering from a degraded lexical range are mere fabrications.

I prefer "Perish in a conflagration," myself...

Re:News To Me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33561138)

We'd all prefer it if you ...

Nah...too easy. ;)

Re:News To Me (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561068)

Good (business and not for techies) software is designed is actually designed to force people to follow a process of best practices. In essence good software programs the people to do their work better. This is different then form a dictionary and thesaurus which are just point of references to be used like an expanded pallet.

Re:News To Me (4, Insightful)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561192)


First, I'll point out a recent Slashdot discussion [slashdot.org] on the topic, about a disagreement between Nicholas Carr and Steven Pinker about just how much the Internet is really "changing" our brains. Suffice it to say there is still plenty of disagreement among experts in the field.

What I think is missing from Carr's anecdotes and study results is a meaningful measure of intelligence with respect to "what matters". Of course, "what matters" is inherently a loaded concept, where everyone will have a different opinion. But the problem is that Carr is making sweeping statements about intelligence in general, based on studies of sub-components of intelligence. I'm sure having access to a very effective search engine makes us "dumber" at the "find useful data in a mass of disorganized crap" problem. But most likely this liberates our minds to focus on (and get better at) higher-level problems, like critically thinking about ideas, or solving real-world dilemmas (the research was, after all, just a means to an end). So was the overall intelligence of the person going up or down when they focused less on being good researcher and more on being good thinker/solvers?

The point is that every piece of technology will make us bad at the task that the technology replaces. But that's as it should be. The whole point is to liberate us from tedious or menial tasks, so that we can concentrate our intellect on those tasks that are hard (currently impossible) to automate. In principle this means that we are spending more and more time thinking about these truly challenging problems (and, thus, getting better at those kinds of "difficult thinking")... at the expense of getting worse at silly tasks that a computer can solve.

And, as you point out, this is a trend that has been going on since humankind first saw fit to build tools. From language, to books, to calculators, to computers, to the Internet... we have automated and externalized a whole bunch of tasks. And yet society keeps getting along, becoming more sophisticated and advanced with every passing generation. I think we're doing just fine.

Slashcode... (4, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560760)

So the shitty slashcode may be doing us all a favor then? Visit idle and become a supergenius.

Re:Slashcode... (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560862)

Yes, any message stating "Slow down, cowboy! It has been X minutes since your last post! Derp!" where X is anything greater then 2 is teaching you to, um... think... good.

My personal best is X=35

Hardly Stupid (5, Informative)

4pins (858270) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560794)

"Never memorize what you can look up in books." - Albert Einstein

As quoted in "Recording the Experience" (10 June 2004) at The Library of Congress

Re:Hardly Stupid (5, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560816)

"Never memorize what you can look up in books." - Albert Einstein

As quoted in "Recording the Experience" (10 June 2004) at The Library of Congress

Did you know that off the top of your head or did you have to Google it? ;-)

Re:Hardly Stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33561120)

At that point, I'd say knowing what to Google to get the quote counts as knowing the quote.

Re:Hardly Stupid (1)

omglolbah (731566) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561182)

He/she knew -of- the quote, and googled to get the exact one to post with a reference ;)

Knowing -of- things is important, much more so than remembering every single detail.

Re:Hardly Stupid (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33560846)

It is biology's moral imperative to minimize ATP consumption.

This man is arguing that we go against the instructions in our DNA.

So who is actually wrong? The entire universe's ability to grow life or this one brain with a big mouth?

Sort of (4, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561032)

Sort of. You do however need basically to know what to look for. Einstein would know what book to pull out to get any bit of physics he didn't remember offhand, and had enough knowledge to know if some reasoning you throw at him is valid or you're pulling his leg. (Well, ok, maybe not about Quantum Mechanics, or not at first;))

Joe Sixpack googling for something will land a few million hits, the first couple of pages will be mostly completely unrelated stuff and/or woowoo from some snake oil vendors. And he just never learned the things that would help him distinguish which is which. Having google and no knowledge of his own won't make him Einstein, sorry.

E.g., try googling for, well, just about anything quantum, and see how many bullshit quantum-chi-crystal pendants you find, "ZOMG, uncertainty means we create the universe when we look at it" apologetics for magical thinking, keyword/link spam sites, etc, you find.

On a good day, you might get the Wikipedia link at the top, because, well, google at some point went "fuck it" trying to sort what is relevant and just artificially upranked Wikipedia. Which half the time still need some filtering abilities of your own, because it'll be a page full of [citation needed] and "original research" signs that still won't help _you_ much decide if you should trust it or not or where to go for more authoritative stuff, often enough will directly contradict other Wikipedia pages it links to, etc. And occasionally will contain such vandalisms as that Iron is mined from monkeys, that the bridges in Ancient Rome were made in Japan, or that didgeridoos are cloned in test tubes. (I swear to the FSM, all three are actual things I've learned on Wikipedia.) Without any knowledge of your own, how would you know whether to trust that or not?

And that's actually on a good day. On a bad day you won't even have that Wikipedia link.

Re:Hardly Stupid (4, Insightful)

arivanov (12034) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561156)


I have had two types of exams at a uni. Some where Exams where you had to bring everything in your head and some where exams where you could bring a whole ref library with you (some where even carried out in a library).

The latter were 10 times more difficult than the former because the prof could actually give you a problem that forces you to think and use what you have learned instead of checking if you have managed to memorise the material.

Software may be making us less patient. I would definitely disagree about the idea that it is making us more stupid.

Back in my day... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33560814)

We had to walk up hills and solve complicated equations in the snow to search the internet. And we liked it, it built character.

Get off my lawn.

Because we've never heard this one before... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33560818)

...Oh. Wait. Yes we have. Calculators. Google must have caused me to forget about that.

I disagree (4, Insightful)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560824)

In fact with the ease of obtaining new information, the way its presented in bite-size paragraphs will make us actually more intelligent.

And with the way technology rapidly develops, you have to kind of think "What next?" and start imagining/thinking.

All the software developers I know always have google on to help them when they forget syntax or whatever - doesn't make them less intelligent - it just means that they're using their brain for more than just remembering things.

Re:I disagree (2, Interesting)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560974)

Yes and no.
Google is great but just too easy to abuse.
Google Montauk Project and you find all sorts of interesting stuff that has every possibility of making you stupid.
If not you at least some people

The problem with search engines is that they are full of unverified data and a large number of people have never been taught the skills that are needed to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Many generations have been taught that if it is in a book then it is true and to them the internet seems like one very large book.
Very few of us seem to know how fact check. What is worse is we also have a group that believes that if a doctor, scientist, or goverment lab says one thing and a guy on a TV talk show says something else to trust the guy on the TV or Blog!

And do not get me started on the Bozo that once told me that I was a "happy villager" because I believed that if aliens didn't want us to know they where flying around they would be smart enough to turn their lights off.

hmm (4, Interesting)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560828)

Not sure if TFA is accurate or not, but I do know that my research skills have vastly improved since the Internet became a daily part of my life (I'm 26). This isn't just because there is more information available...I mean I am able to sift through the crap and find what I'm looking for much quicker than I used to.

That's worth something...right?

Cognition Understanding Fail (5, Insightful)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560834)

The "intellectual capacity to store information" and the "ability to think innovatively" are controlled by two completely different cognitive mechanisms.

Re:Cognition Understanding Fail (4, Funny)

El_Muerte_TDS (592157) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560970)

The author could have known that if he'd simply look it up through Google. But that would invalidate the point he was trying to make.

Re:Cognition Understanding Fail (2, Interesting)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560990)

The "intellectual capacity to store information" and the "ability to think innovatively" are controlled by two completely different cognitive mechanisms.

I agree. But doesn't one feed into the other?

All of the great scientists and inventors I have read about would study a subject as well as related things for long periods of time. Their minds would stew that information and then make the connections for that "A HA!" moment - usually when they're doing something completely unrelated; like sleeping in Linus Pauling's case. If their brains didn't have that information stored, it wouldn't have been able to make those connections.

Re:Cognition Understanding Fail (1)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561078)

The "intellectual capacity to store information" and the "ability to think innovatively" are controlled by two completely different cognitive mechanisms.

To say nothing of the less fundamental but still important fact that the abilities to use a search engine and evaluate the credibility of sources are independent skills. If anything, it's the latter that has become an issue, not because people have gotten worse at it, but just because many sources of information are now available to the vast majority of people who were never very good at evaluating sources to begin with.

In any case, considering the main uses of Google, it's not like the ability to store information about either porn or the URLs of shopping sites matters very much in any practical sense. The same can probably be said for the ability to think innovatively about porn and shopping, too.

Re:Cognition Understanding Fail (3, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561168)

True, but both require training. If all you did was trying to memorize trivia, you wouldn't be that good at reasoning. If you google everything, then you won't be that good at memorizing things. The essential skill you're looking for is critical thinking, but critical thinking requires you both to actually know enough to reason from and the ability to reason.

If you ask me what the cause of WWII is, I'm not going to pull it out of some logical nowhere. I have to pull it a lot of facts about WWI, the great depression, political ideas of the time, the threat of communism and so on. The more facts I have, the more likely I have some relevant facts to use as basis. Of course you can say you can google it, but you can only google facts that you know are missing. If you don't even know the relevance, you lose them.

And on that topic, there's also a lot of useful metaknowledge that goes between pure facts and pure logic, like organizational theory, group theory, motivational theory, psychology, game theory and so on. People who know it will understand the actors, those that don't know it also won't understand why people do what they do. And you rarely manaqe to google your way into a decent understanding of it, it's more long term lerning for those able to memorize.

It's the only solution (4, Insightful)

Max Romantschuk (132276) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560842)

The only way to manage the ever growing amounts of information in the world is to offload part of the processing to some kind of AI. Likely, this is the beginning of a long progression.

Is this bad and horrible or insanely great? (Pun intended.) Who knows? I suspect it is a logical progression of our evolution.

Not the conclusion I would make (4, Insightful)

frinkster (149158) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560844)

The article described a simple experiment where a puzzle needed to be solved using a computer program. One half of participants were given a 'good' program - it gave hints, was intuitive and generally helped the user to their goal.

The other half took on the same puzzle, but with software which offered little to make the task easier.

There is a research lab near me that does this sort of thing. I've talked with many people that walk out of this place. They are there for the small amounts of cash they receive in exchange for participating. If one of the computer programs made the puzzle easier, that allowed them to finish and collect their cash faster.

The motivation is not to complete the puzzle, the motivation is to collect the cash. To accurately compare the two methods, you will need to find a group of people who are interested in learning how to solve a difficult puzzle and divide them into the groups. Good luck finding such a group, however.

Re:Not the conclusion I would make (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561090)

but with software which offered little to make the task easier.

If the psychological testing gig doesn't work out, sounds like they'll fit right into the Corporate Business software field.

I'm suffering more from overload than anything (5, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560854)

I sat down the other day to watch a movie and was actually paralyzed with too many choices. I have blu-rays, DVD's, Netflix streaming, Hulu, YouTube, hundreds of cable channels (including many on-demand), and about a zillion other ways to watch TV and movies. But lately, this has become too much. I'm beginning to feel like I have *too much* choice (something I never would have thought possible). Back in the day, my choice was pretty limited. I would go into the local video store and maybe discover something special or just rent a blockbuster--whatever. Now I have a sea of possibilities and it's overwhelming.

Re:I'm suffering more from overload than anything (1)

ergean (582285) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560972)

What we need is something like last.fm's algorithm, but backwards... you should watch - something you would never consider watching. We tend to look for things that reinforce our current preconceptions and that makes us vulnerable to the build-up of strongholds that blind us to new ideas.

Re:I'm suffering more from overload than anything (1)

iammani (1392285) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561006)

Seriously, you would not go wrong in choosing any of these. Choose one and go with it.

Re:I'm suffering more from overload than anything (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33561162)

Maybe you're just getting old?

Re:I'm suffering more from overload than anything (4, Funny)

janwedekind (778872) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561180)

Just get an Apple TV and let Steve Jobs do the choices for you.

Plato said the SAME THING about books (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33560890)

He noticed a depreciation in memory from writing things down...

It has hurt us SO much

Re:Plato said the SAME THING about books (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561004)

Well, Socrates was the one who said that this literacy thing is was overrated. Plato should've listened to his teacher.

Re:Plato said the SAME THING about books (1)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561248)

Plato was right. Humans in literate societies do (on average) have worse memories than humans in societies that do not have written languages. However, the ability to record information outside of our brains has led to develop many abilities and skills that our hunter-gatherer ancestors did not have. Personally, I think that humans are better off with the new skill sets and mental abilities. My ability to memorize my family tree may not be as good as my iron age ancestors' was, but no-one in my family tree has died in childbirth in the past few generations. I doubt that Mr Iron Age Squid0 could have said that.

Mr. Carr fails at science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33560894)

I really wish someone could convince Mr. Carr to go die in a fire, anyone looking at the details of the studies he used will realize that the conclusions he comes to are huge jumps away from what they actually mean. Still, I guess if you write a book about how technology is killing us it is best to do a little fear mongering to raise sales.

Look It Up (5, Insightful)

Mr. Foogle (253554) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560896)

"Search engines(TM) function of providing us with information almost instantly means people are losing their intellectual capacity to store information,

Oh, please. Before we had the internet, we had reference books.

The key to getting things done is not in memorizing sheaves of information but knowing how to look things up and synthesize.

Re:Look It Up (2, Funny)

whitedsepdivine (1491991) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561072)

I believe Einstein once said: Don't waste your memory on things you can look up, just know where to look for your information. But I am having problems locating the specific quote.

Re:Look It Up (1)

Vahokif (1292866) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561118)

The difference is that search engines give you information in milliseconds, which might encourage you to not remember (cache) things in the first place. Reference books take significantly longer to use, even if they're in your home.

Stamford Bridge, please. (5, Insightful)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560922)

The article starts off by talking about taxi drivers, which reminded me of this incident [bbc.co.uk].

This isn't just a software issue; it applies to any tool that has replaced a skill. You could say the same about matches replacing firelighting skills.

Re:Stamford Bridge, please. (1)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560978)

I think that sat nav does make that sort of error more likely. People are unlikely to "just set off" without some idea of were they are going.

Humans evolve (5, Insightful)

ledow (319597) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560932)

We will never be "the same" as we were yesterday. Our great-grandparents probably didn't go to school. Our grandparents probably did but left as early as they could. Our parents almost certainly attended school and got some qualifications. We are required by law to attend school and almost certain will leave with a raft of skills - not a SINGLE one of which will be Latin.

My great-grandparents probably did not have electricity, or bulbs, so they could not study at night without breathing in carcinogens from a fire hazard. My grandparents were evacuated from their education into villages and towns to avoid undirected "batch-dropped" bombs. My parents never saw a computer until they already had children.

Humans do not stay the same. The skills my parents need are different to the ones I need and always will be. I *do not* need to memorise lots of phone numbers because I have multiple SIM cards and online backups that do that for me. I don't even KNOW most of the numbers I dial regularly. My grandparents probably had a 4-digit phone number when they first used one, and barely knew anyone they could phone. My great-grandparents did not have biros to write with, and I don't write with one now (I can't remember the last time I had to write anything down, except on computer!).

Stop complaining about "drastic changes" that the human body or mind has to undergo. It's ALWAYS in flux, my daughter will not learn the same language that I've spent my life learning. If we're talking critical changes, then things like planetary legacies, etc. are infinitely more important than "our children may use a calculator instead of their fingers" or any of the things mentioned in this article.

Humans are a flexible, adaptable, learning machine. That's what makes us so fantastically successful (relatively speaking to other mammals our size). Our brains will automatically adapt to what they need to learn to support modern life. In this case, probably long-term memory will eventually make way for improvisational and logistical skills. That's not a BAD thing.

Re:Humans evolve (1)

gutnor (872759) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561244)

"Humans are a flexible, adaptable, learning machine."

They also have a very limited capacity, all considered. Without calculator and search engine and whatnot, it is very likely that only a small fraction of the population would be able to acquire all the required skills needed to live in a modern society. Whole field of modern science like climatology, physics, ... would probably out of reach of human being.

That is sad in a way. Without modern tools, I would probably not be able to live in the same condition as my great-grand parents - soon that will even be the exclusive knowledge of historian to figure out how they did it. But as you said, human evolves and that is not a bad thing/

More like laziness (4, Insightful)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560934)

Having software that thinks for you makes you vulnerable to stop wanting to make the effort to think for yourself. I work tech support, and you'd be amazed the amount of people in that field who lost the simple ability to make the logical deduction that "if a problem can be caused by part A or B, and swapping out a functional part A doesn't solve it, part B must be at fault." Some agents will fight you tooth and nail that part A might still be the problem even after swapping out three fully functional part As, yet are unable to explain you why they believe so when pressed to back up their argument.

Re:More like laziness (1)

denalione (133730) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561008)

This has nothing to do with Google. This is because some people are stupid. Removing Google from the equation won't make them less stupid.

Re:More like laziness (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561210)

This has nothing to do with Google. This is because some people are stupid. Removing Google from the equation won't make them less stupid.

Original poster actually got it so wrong, that the argument made no sense.

Some agents will fight you tooth and nail that part A might still be the problem even after swapping out three fully functional part As, yet are unable to explain you why they believe so when pressed to back up their argument.

Corrected version:

Some agents will fight you tooth and nail that part A might still be the problem even after swapping out three fully functional part As, because part A was the first result of a google search.

You tend to encounter this from follower-type personalities. The type that lives in a beige mcmansion and finds nothing humorous at all in sayings like "eat (something disgusting), because ten trillion houseflies can't all be wrong"

Re:More like laziness (3, Interesting)

Steauengeglase (512315) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561204)

I've been working around this business for most of my adult life, going from phone jockey to the guy who wrote the manuals to the IT dept. To be brutally honest, a lot (though certainly not all) of that has less to do with people getting lazy about their job and more about employers dumbing down training and automating so much of the troubleshooting process so they can hire any idiot off the street. Soon you have a floor full of idiots and management can't be happier. Pay rates drop, distension disappears because you have made the use of critical thinking skills a punishable offense and the higher levels egos get rubbed because they are now the smartest minds in the building.

Finally quality drops and the training dept begins to yet again lower standards. Wash, rinse and repeat. In the end you have a room full of shivering, gibbering, shit producing bio-IVRs who are too afraid that they will get canned for saying anything other than the text they see on the screen.

It true! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33560944)

I used good good software. Now I stupid.

Less likely for rip off? (1)

drumcat (1659893) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560954)

Wouldn't a more standardized system leave some whim to experienced drivers, but mostly provide a more intelligent routing service? Besides, if the driver doesn't speak English, they're golden. Since it's London, that's likely anyhow...

You can't be 'more' stupid (1)

js3 (319268) | more than 3 years ago | (#33560960)

It makes us lazy, not stupid. It's not possible to lose intelligence already gained.

Re:You can't be 'more' stupid (1)

PeterM from Berkeley (15510) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561030)

Never heard of Alzheimers, head injuries, aging, damage from anoxia, other forms of dementia, drug induced damage, infection...? (To name a few ways of "losing intelligence already gained").

Furthermore, natural forgetting erases skills and "intelligence" too. The brain is wonderfully plastic, and if you're not using your intelligence, your brain will scrap it so it can more readily do whatever it is you really are doing with your brain.

Remember, your brain is continually recycling/rebuilding itself.


"Wildfire titles" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33560980)

Apparently Slashdot post titles can't heed the lament in its own summary.

My $0.02 (3, Interesting)

GillBates0 (664202) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561012)

I find that the internet, and Google-like search capabilities mirror and satisfy my mind's innate desire to jump from one thought (and topic) to another.

Now, in addition to thinking random thoughts (which the mind/brain tends to do), I can read up and learn about on these subjects which earlier used to be just thoughts, and in that sense it makes me more learned.

What this encourages though, is a more unsteady thought pattern, with related and seemingly 'random' web searches about this thought stream.

I'm considering taking up meditation to encourage a 'calmer' mind that doesn't jump around as much between thoughts.

I couldn't store information before (3, Insightful)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561020)

So this has improved my relative intelligence.
I had chemo (and had issues before).

The logic circuits still work but I only remember pointers to information. So search engines let me turn that pointer into the full fact on demand.

Abstractions anyone? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33561026)

The author obviously couldn't be bothered to look up the word "abstraction". You know, that concept that constitutes one of the foundations of what we call progress.

Counter Point (4, Insightful)

way2slo (151122) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561054)

Google being quick at finding information does not make us know less. People know as much as they want to put the effort into knowing. Google can help them find more to know.

Bullshit conclusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33561082)

Correlations and causations, etc.

You have certain amount of allocated pointers in your head for information. If you can't store the information in the pointer, you have to use raw storage, which, in turn, takes space from potential pointers to various information storages. If, instead of remembering somewhat worthless information, you can merely allocate the information's whereabouts to the pointer in question, you'll save a lot of space. If you have to store every trivial bit, your brain will soon become encumbered with trivial, worthless information-- leaving little to no room for large bits of new information. The most efficient way to use your brain is to store as much as you can without hindering basic logic as pointers to large information databases (bookshelf, google, acquintances..), and leave the rest of the room as a playground for thought. (Imagine a defrag with 1% free space in comparison to that with 90% free space). [citation needed, right?].


Dupe... from oral to written conversion (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33561084)

Wasn't this also a concern when written word was developed? That people would be dumber because they did not have to remember the stories passed down over the generations?

Well, I doesn't really say that at all... (4, Insightful)

SpinningAround (449335) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561100)

I didn't read anything that said we were losing our capacity to think innovatively. In fact, the article makes a point of the showing what might be considered the opposite - that the brain patterns demonstrated when Googling and surfing the internet were associated with making sharp decisions. What the author of the study articulated was a theory that this was in conflict with concentrated calm retention of knowledge like reading a book or memorizing a million and one routes through London.

What the article didn't expand on was why this might be very bad. Unless you think that someone is going to take away your GPS or the Internet then it doesn't matter any more than inventing the written word put story-telling as a means of retaining history out of business was a bad thing. Surely that train of thought would rely on the notion that something very very bad was going to happen to the world and at that point I fear that the skills you would need were lost generations ago by the vast majority of people. Surely the author is not suggesting that the fact that the vast majority have almost certainly lost or at least have diminished the patterns of thinking that supported primal hunter-gather life was necessarily a bad thing for our evolution?

Well that would be until Skynet takes control, anyway.

Taco punts (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561128)

One time you actually could have gotten away with a wild unhinged headline, you punt. Pussy.

I'll have to step up then:


Maybe... (1)

grumpyman (849537) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561130)

Maybe we lose some ability to store, but gain some ability to analyze more data, more complex environment?

Not total bollocks (3, Interesting)

Salamander (33735) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561146)

The sad fact is that making something convenient *does* impact people's ability to use less convenient methods. That can be a problem when the less convenient method is unavailable, or has other benefits. With respect to the first point, there's a lot of information that hasn't made its way into Google yet - e.g. legal case histories, medical records, lots of historical archive material. Some of that information is subject to privacy concerns and should *never* be on Google or Wikipedia. If you want to use those sources effectively, you have to develop skills like using the local classification system (e.g. Dewey/LoC or domain-specific) and indexing methods, skimming pages quickly to sort out the wheat from the chaff, etc. You get better by doing, and if what you've been doing is honing your Google skills instead then you simply will be less productive in these other environments than someone who is used to them. S2BU if that turns out to be part of your job, and you might be surprised how often it is.

With respect to the second point, I'll give another example. One of my work-study jobs in college was to develop a bibliography on African education. One of the critical skills in that job was to read the bibliography in one book to find other titles and authors, but that's more to the previous point. The other thing that really helped was to go to the shelves to find one book I knew about, and then *look around* to find others that might be of interest. Try that on Google. The kind of search they offer is too focused, or perhaps not focused properly, to allow that kind of browsing. I get the same experience every time I use an old-fashioned paper encyclopedia; I find all sorts of other information "along the way" that's utterly useless in my current search but more often than not comes in handy - even if it's only as a conversational gambit - some other time. Those are secondary benefits that I don't get by using the major online sources, though I get some by wandering through low-profile blogs and other sites. To the extent that some people never stray more than a link or two away from Google (or Slashdot), that's a loss and it's sad.

The web can broaden our horizons (TBL's initial vision) or narrow them. Sadly, the current directions we're taking tend more toward the latter.

Possible benefits? (1)

Tsar (536185) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561172)

I'd like to see (or participate in) a study to determine whether Googling on everything but a specific focus area can help concentrate mental faculties on that area. Something like Joe Haldeman's excellent short story "None So Blind [sff.net]".

how inaccurate information keeps us hostage.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33561232)

to irrelevant 'stuff that (doesn't) matter(s) (at all)'. anything to take/keep your eye off the 'ball', which currently may be surviving the ongoing corepirate nazi illuminati holycost. best to leave it alone/continue to pretend?

Old, discredited argument (2, Interesting)

bfwebster (90513) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561260)

Variations of this argument date back at least 25 years, when it was it was seriously proposed that the WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointers) interface being popularized by the Macintosh would mentally cripple us, and that we should all stick with command-line interfaces. No, seriously. I strongly suspect a similar argument was made when the automatic transmission was introduced in cars, or the Dewey Decimal system and card catalogs into libraries. ("You should just read all the books and know what's where!")

It was bollocks then, and it's bollocks now. These are enabling technologies -- people get more done. I have 3000 books in 17 bookshelves (the vast majority non-fiction) and have new books from Amazon arrive almost weekly; I read heavily, but I also use Google and other on-line tools heavily. ..bruce..

Yes... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33561296)

And driving cars damages our cardio ability. I won't hold my breath for people to start biking to work.

Oh, that explains it! (3, Funny)

Cyberllama (113628) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561312)

So iTunes is just Apple's way of making us all a bit smarter by being *terrible*. Whew. I was confused on that one!

Books, slide rules, harpsichords (5, Insightful)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 3 years ago | (#33561324)

Just like books destroyed our ability to memorize, slide rules destroyed our ability to calculate, and that newfangled mechanical music technology--what are is it called? yeah, harpsichords--destroyed our ability to sing.

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