Friday, May 4, 2007

The Web Destroys Thinking

I've heard it reported from friends in different parts of the educational field. From grade school kids to grad school students, when they're asked to do any kind of research paper, they go out and cut copy from half a dozen websites, paste it into a Word doc and turn it in as is.

And this is the thing... they're not doing this because they're lazy. They're not consciously trying to get away with something. They're doing it because they don't understand how to do it any other way.

In other words, the whole concept of, "Go out and do some research, digest it, then form your own opinion based on that research and write about it" makes no sense to people who have grown up with the web. The information is so accessible--so easy to find, grab and paste--that the very concept of original thinking is disappearing.

It makes me wonder--as one of the last American generations to attend college before the dawn of the Internet--how the difficulty of finding information directly relates to the intellect. Because I had to go to a library, locate a bunch of books, read them, maybe photocopy certain pages, and take notes--did this process by its very nature spur my intellect? If I had gone to school as kids do now, and the whole process was exponentially faster and easier, would I have thought less?

Or by thinking this way am I just falling into the typical, "Back in my day..." allure of presumed generational superiority? Do students today gain something by such easy access to information that cancels out what they lose by not being able to synthesize? Is there a trade off? Is this all just a net-zero game where quantity replaces quality? Does my argument logically then mean that if I also had to walk five miles each way to the library and take notes using a hammer and chisel, that I would be even BETTER able to digest, think, synthesize and form opinions?

I don't know. Gotta think about it.

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