New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller wonders whether social media and other technology have eroded our capacity to remember, analyze information — and just contemplate:
My father, who was trained in engineering at M.I.T. in the slide-rule era, often lamented the way the pocket calculator, for all its convenience, diminished my generation’s math skills. Many of us have discovered that navigating by G.P.S. has undermined our mastery of city streets and perhaps even impaired our innate sense of direction. Typing pretty much killed penmanship. Twitter and YouTube are nibbling away at our attention spans. And what little memory we had not already surrendered to Gutenberg we have relinquished to Google. Why remember what you can look up in seconds?
One danger he sees:
Robert Bjork, who studies memory and learning at U.C.L.A., has noticed that even very smart students, conversant in the Excel spreadsheet, don’t pick up patterns in data that would be evident if they had not let the program do so much of the work.
“Unless there is some actual problem solving and decision making, very little learning happens,” Bjork e-mailed me. “We are not recording devices.”
That reminds me of a point — possibly related — that was brought up in a previous post: The best way to master information, such as for a test, is to test yourself repeatedly. The effort required to recall the information helps your brain retain it. It supposedly beats both mind-mapping and more passive forms of studying such as cramming.