Saturday, March 15, 2008

My head is too small

While individual fields of study go in and out of vogue, the net effort devoted to expanding the sphere of human knowledge has never been greater. Simultaneously, technological innovations have kept pace by making information more accessible than ever before. In response to changes in the amount and accessibility of information, people have developed coping mechanisms with profound consequences for their professional and personal lives.

Professionally, we are moving towards increasing specialization. Achieving expert status in anything other than closely circumscribed areas has been made impossible by the sheer volume of available information. Case in point, the venerable general practice physician who has now morphed into a diagnostic expert, without peer at quickly discerning patients’ general problems and then sending them to the appropriate specialist.

Personally, we are becoming more comfortable relying on external information. Constantly checking and relying upon Wikipedia, other people, or any other form of external data storage is how we have adapted to a world where the volume of data necessary to function far outstrips the limits of our memory. While my grandfather found it feasible to keep most of the knowledge he needed on a daily basis inside his head, rising generations are characterized by the ability to quickly find and internalize necessary information from external sources.

While these changes are not necessarily good or bad, they represent a fundamental shift that should not be accepted without consideration of its potential long-term societal and personal consequences.

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