Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Can You Google an Education?

Thanks to search engines like Google, there's no point in wondering about anything anymore. If a question pops into your head..."I wonder why there's a loop sewn into the back of my dress shirt," you can just Google it, and in less than thirty seconds, you'll find the answer. This raises the question, have search engines rendered traditional education obsolete? I suppose I could Google that too.

Younger people have become especially enamored with this fascinating technology, as you will discover if you ever get into an Internet argument with one of them. Suddenly, a kid who under normal circumstances couldn't write a single sentence without three grammar mistakes is suddenly pummeling you with brilliant paragraphs of information making your views on the designated hitter seem woefully ill-informed. You marvel at the speed and grace with which this generation has learned to cut and paste. Who knew that opposable thumbs would not only be the key to our dexterity as humans, but our ability to access information as well?

When I was getting my formal education, the place where all of this accessing information business took place was at the library. Now it's done at the local Buffalo Wild Wings on your cell phone between beers. The lucky kids when I was growing up were the ones who's parents had bought the complete set of encyclopedias from that door-to-door salesman from Brittanica. Now, they gather dust on the bookshelf, their leather bindings in perfect condition and the gold leaf paper still shiny and new like some sort of ornamental relic.

Lest anyone think that I believe this is all a bad thing, think again. Search engines have made my professional life so much easier. I benefit greatly from having information instantly available, and would hate to have to function without this awesome technology that we all now take for granted. But I'm troubled by my reliance on it nonetheless. Are human beings educated when they learn and know things that have been burned into their memory, or are they educated simply by knowing where to find information? Is reading Dostoevsky the same thing as Googling The Brothers Karamazov? Is having your father show you how to tie a Windsor knot better than Googling "How to tie a tie?"

How's this for a dystopian nightmare? Thirty years from now after an entire generation of humanity has been educated by search engines, a freak solar storm fries every circuit on Earth, wiping out the Internet. Will the knowledge base of humanity also be wiped out? How much will our collective memory be able to reliably recall? Since rote memorization went the way of the dinosaur, will humanity, after having its umbilical chord to the Internet severed, be rendered intellectually impotent? In the new internet-free world, will all of those dusty encyclopedias become the new Holy Books? What would become of civilization if we woke up one morning and there was no longer...an app for that?

Hopefully there will still be some folks around who went to the trouble of memorizing poetry. And that weird guy back in college who memorized the entire book of John...in Hebrew? He'll be the only employable religion professor on the east coast.