Lately, I’ve been giving greater thought to how the influence of the internet has changed who I am, and how I operate. This reverie was sparked a few weeks ago when I noticed that I have increasingly stopped reading online news articles to their completion, and have instead begun moving on to the next item as soon as I’ve figured out the main points.
To some, this might not be a discovery that would prompt much self-reflection, but I was a little unnerved. I had always been one who, back in the days of the physical newspaper (remember those?), had really enjoyed reading each article thoroughly and thoughtfully. Now, I often read the first two or three paragraphs and press on to what’s next.
Thinking about the cause of this change, I decided fairly quickly that it wasn’t a decline in interest in world events, since I still spend about the same amount of time reading articles as I ever did, but rather the result of the sheer volume of articles to which I’m now exposed.
Whenever I open my Google News page to see what’s happened, there are immediately half a dozen or more articles that instantly jump out as being worth my time, with more appearing every few minutes. The result is that any article that isn’t truly, instantly engrossing needs to be summarized quickly and replaced, so as to maximize “knowledge assimilation.”
This realization got me wondering in what other ways I might have changed how I do things, and how my mind operates, in order to accommodate the nature of the internet. One thing that occurred to me is that I’m increasingly less likely to remember detailed information about sites that interest me. Instead, when I come across a page that I feel is worth coming back to, I don’t necessarily remember in detail what the page was titled or what it was about. Instead, I find myself thinking of two or three keywords that I can use to find it again on Google or Bing, anytime I need to.
So, are these changes a bad thing? I was inclined to think that though the amount of information available to me might be increasing, the net effect was ultimately just a shallower understanding of things, with no real expertise. In searching for an answer, I came upon an interesting article titled “The Internet is Making us ‘Superhuman’”, which directly addressed the same question.
According to the author (identified as “memenode” in the article), the journal Science recently conducted a study showing that “reliable and constant access to online information is affecting how we use our memory. Instead of remembering facts ourselves we remember where we can find those facts.”
What does this mean exactly? Well, the article states that the influence of information technology in our daily lives is leading our brains to essentially reconfigure the way they process new information, focusing less on remembering the information, and more on providing a quick reference card on where the information can be found in future.
The result, according to the author, is that we are effectively incorporating the internet into our overall brain power, greatly increasing our ability to access information. The flip side, of course, is that we are becoming ever more reliant on technology to provide the “know-how” for all kinds of tasks, but given the general trend of society, the author argues that was fairly inevitable anyway.
From a training perspective, this article is especially interesting because it provides new evidence for the importance of “just-in-time” learning for the workplace.
We at Dashe & Thomson have for years been at the forefront of the development of Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSSs), which are designed to allow employees to quickly and easily access role-based, bite-sized information at the exact point in time when they need it. By providing them with a pathway to the information they need, we don’t need to hope they’ll remember it. Given that the human brain appears to be adopting the strategy, according to Science, it would seem we’ve got the right idea.