Monday, February 15, 2010

Historical Perspective

People always fear new information technology:
Socrates famously warned against writing because it would "create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories." ...

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner ... described how the modern world overwhelmed people with data and that this overabundance was both "confusing and harmful" to the mind. ... he died in 1565.

... in the 18th century, when newspapers became more common. The French statesman Malesherbes railed against the fashion for getting news from the printed page, arguing that it socially isolated readers and detracted from the spiritually uplifting group practice of getting news from the pulpit.

... as literacy became essential and schools were widely introduced, the curmudgeons turned against education for being unnatural and a risk to mental health. An 1883 article in the weekly medical journal the Sanitarian argued that schools "exhaust the children's brains and nervous systems with complex and multiple studies, and ruin their bodies by protracted imprisonment."

... When radio arrived, we discovered yet another scourge of the young: The wireless was accused of distracting children from reading and diminishing performance in school, both of which were now considered to be appropriate and wholesome.

The human brain is amazingly bad at accurate information storage.  Our memories are incredibly fallible, prone to both cognitive biases and simple forgetfulness.  The human brain is also really bad at simple math.  However, our brains can, if well trained, be very good at making inferences, seeing patterns, and generating analysis and professional judgment.  Any technology that reduces the amount of time we have to spend on mundane memorization and calculation can enable us to make better and better use of our brains, by focusing on the things we are best at.

No comments: