Is Knowledge Power?

I’ve had this particular post stuck as a titled, empty draft for quite awhile. I knew I wanted to discuss the ever-evolving topic of knowledge, but it’s something I feel is over my head (word play slightly intended).

It first began with a TED Talk by Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings. My family is a big fan of the show. I like being home from work every day to hopefully answer a question or two correct.

The people on that show and many people in my life are so incredibly knowledgeable. They can pull facts and information at will. Somehow they’ve soaked up a bunch of subjects and can often rely on their own intellect when the appropriate situation arises. Maybe not always practical, but when there’s a random trivia question? Sure, why not?

But the need to have this type of knowledge seems to be dwindling. Instead of memorizing dates and facts and statistics, technology does the hard work for us. We can Google anything in seconds. The vast amount of information at our disposal is the largest it has ever been, and it continues to grow. And with our limited capabilities as human beings, we can only handle so much.

So that’s where technology shines. There is essentially no limit to what a supercomputer like IBM’s Watson can handle. We have reached a point where we ask the question, why try and compete? If a genius like Ken Jennings cannot even beat Watson, then why try and memorize anything?

For me, I struggle remembering anything that I don’t use on a daily basis. I know I memorized many different equations in algebra and calculus that, at this point, I cannot remember a lick of. Which honestly bums me out. This knowledge we pull out of nowhere is not necessarily beneficial on a day-to-day basis, and as we keep trying to push ourselves to work harder and be more efficient, it’s knowledge that we see as decreasingly necessary.

I’m not the only person talking about this. A recent column with the New York Times also discussed the debate of whether we really need our brains or not. If you have a resource like Google available, why use anything else? We have become dependent on keyboards and touch screens. And with that, we have allowed technology control over our own knowledge base. That’s scary. Not just because I’ve read multiple books about technology and robots taking over, but because that could easily become reality. Technology is being developed so quickly, we have yet to know of what repercussions might follow.

But humans aren’t robots, and that is where we shine. We may not have every answer to aggregate on a tidy web page, but a computer cannot understand the underlying context of your words and questions. It lacks emotion and passion when listing off related sites. Looking something up at a moment’s notice doesn’t allow the time to actually think critically. Having to look up every single question we have online is actually less efficient if it’s disrupting the task at hand, whether it’s solving a math problem or reading a book with a complex vocabulary.

Yes, those situations are generally in an educational setting, but inevitably, that’s where we have to start. College tuition prices continue to rise, drawing many more people to online classes to earn equivalent degrees. It’s easier and cheaper. But how much do people actually learn from hours spent in front of a screen? If Google is at your fingertips, chances are, that’s what’ll use for everything.

Our brains are organs capable of memorizing and learning. Heck, that’s how we evolved to our current state, with reasoning and curiosity. Every time you retrieve information from memory, it becomes a bit easier to find it the next time. True education comes from applying information to real-life settings. That’s why students studying for a test actually remember more if they quiz themselves than if they reread their textbook. That parades the right ideas before the mind, but doesn’t make them stick, just like when we read search engine results. You won’t learn your way around a city if you always use your GPS, but you will if you reason out your location based on memory of past experiences and routes.

Research is important. The resources we have are valuable. But they shouldn’t become the go-to for learning and growth. No matter your age, elementary school or college or beyond, we can’t learn that way long-term. Technology is a complement to what we already possess. Yes, it takes more work and effort to learn information for ourselves, especially depending on how strong your memory is, but education is one of our most important assets and basic human rights we have. Learning requires determination, patience, and perseverance, but learning is something we should be doing every day. We cannot allow technology to advance and let ourselves fade away.

Technology can never replace nor surpass human experience and wisdom. We are beacons of knowledge. We offer our own unique information to the world. And that information is not from a Google search.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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