Since the appearance of the search engine a great deal has changed about how we do things.
I can still remember when memorizing something at hearth, was not just something for convenience, to have the most frequently needed information “in the cache”, and available immediately, but it was actually a necessity. For technical stuff, for example, we used to bookmark certain pages of our textbooks so we could use them as a reference. This way, we had two layers, the things we knew from hearth, and the things we knew were to look up immediately.
As the Internet became more accessible from everywhere, more and more information has been digitized, and search engines became better; the need for memorizing has more or less -with the exception of game show contestants- effectively vanished. In the last few years, it has gone a few steps further with improved experience from voice-assisted digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, where now, we can just ask a question out to the ether and get the answer within seconds.
I noticed I have started forgetting some factual data, and relying more and more on search. But there is another consequence for this. We are effectively outsourcing our global knowledge to search, in a collective big digital brain, and this may have huge consequences.
This is a journey that began many years ago, in an effort of passing information from generation to generation. Evolution first selected the “replicator” as a way of passing on physical features that are better for survival, to the next generation. Then intelligent life prevailed as we were able to figure out our everyday problems.
But every generation had to figure things out on their own, until we found a way to teach our children the best place to forage, the location of the watering hole, and the best hunting technique. This kept being a perennial “telephone game”, and was very prone to error. So we started coming up with ways to preserve certain thoughts in more permanent ways, like for example folk songs and stories. The “meme” (in contrast with “gene”), was born.
acquired characteristics are not inherited. No matter how much knowledge and wisdom you acquire during your life, not one jot will be passed on to your children by genetic means. Each new generation starts from scratch.Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
When Gutenberg invented moveable type, we took this one step further, making it possible to outsource the continuity of ideas, to books. A whole generation could be skipped, and the book would still contain the same idea, verbatim, as the author intended. We even became able to transmit ideas over a distance, between two humans who would never meet in person ever, just by shipping a book.
Today, with the outsourcing to search, we are taking yet another step in evolution. Search is not just a better book. All the human knowledge, all the books in the world are not that much useful unless you read through them, or you go through a traditional education process. Every generation starts from zero, and they have to learn everything.
But with search, is different. Search, given that we have basic skills to know how to use the information we tap into, gives us knowledge that is immediately -not just available- but also actionable. For certain things, no longer has every generation have to start from zero. Think about it, a 12-year old can google exactly the same information than you. Many of us don’t even make an effort in memorizing certain addresses, we just rely on our GPS. In this sense, a visitor knows exactly how to get to a certain place, as a local.
These capabilities will continue to evolve, as we incorporate more Augmented Reality technologies that feed us with relevant information in-context and effortlessly. And this progress, will continue to improve and evolve at the speed of Moore’s Law.
I argue that this is truly a giant leap in our evolution, we are just not aware of how impactful all this will be. You can stop memorizing now.