Can our brains survive information age?

Recently I have read several books that focus on information, human knowledge and communication. They touch on topics of books, how they came to be, how they were written, copied, Gutenberg press, newspapers, radio, television, Internet and other media. And also concerns about dying paper — printed newspapers and magazines are disappearing, they are moving to digital spaces.

Printing press

Different media are not the same. The transition from one to another is not straight forward as one does not replace the other. They are used differently. People read books differently than they read text on a screen, even though it might be the same content. Digital devices distract us in a way that books never will. Books allow for deeper reading, a method where one’s thoughts are in sync with the book, where we open ourselves to absorb thoughts of the writer.

“I had thought that the magic of the information age was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized that the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less.” — David Brooks

There are two kinds of memory:

  1. What we know, and
  2. What we don’t know but we know where to find it (information).

We use external cognitive servants — silicon memory systems, collaborative online filters, consumer preference algorithms and networked knowledge.

We tend to memorize less these days. Information is always available, always at hand, in our pockets, mobile always-connected devices can retrieve that information fast.

Knowledge in our brains is becoming less important.

What we need to know today is how to ask.

We need to learn how to ask so that AI (e.g. Google search) can understand us and provide us with answers.

So we memorize Google search operators, like “site:” or … Well, I did not even memorize those, because I can also find them easily. All I have to know is that there are such keywords and that there is a way to use them.

When you have children, their curiosity about the world is overwhelming. The constant “why?” question at early ages. Later, you start having deeper conversations about how stuff works and why. Hopefully, this curiosity will lead them to deeper thinking and improvements on what we have built so far (yes, this is a wishful thinking of a father who is an engineer).

We are not smarter than our parents. We have the same brains.

It is just that our brains are wired in different ways. We approach things in life differently as we were exposed to different set of experiences as we grew up. And so will our children.

Children born to the information age pick up tablets with touch screens that are designed for natural use. Nobody needs to teach them to tap or swipe their fingers on the screen. It all is “normal” to them. Then we grin when they put their sticky fingers on the screens of our laptops or TVs that aren’t equipped the same.

Our brains will survive the information age. Our brains will form new synopses. This rewiring is already happening. We are becoming a part of unified and distributed, always-on, always-connected neural network.

The real question is “Can we still be smart if the power goes down and we find ourselves living in an offline world?”

I still see a monumental value in books. Read them!

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