“Knowing things is hopelessly twentieth century,” says Justin Webb, a British TV journalist. “Everything you need to know – things you may previously have memorised from books – is (or soon will be) instantly available on a handheld device in your pocket.”
Google is no substitute for learning things by heart, argues Toby Young, founder of the West London Free School, in a Telegraph blog.
The less we know, the more we have to use working memory to search for information and make sense of it, he writes. Our working memory can run out of space.
The “just Google it” approach also neglects the knowledge a child needs to search accurately, Young writes.
“Searchers need to have an idea what they are looking for,” writes Libby Purves in a Times column.
A great paradox is that the pre-Internet generation may prove to be uniquely privileged, because having learnt facts once makes us diabolically efficient Internet searchers.
Even an accurate search is useless if the searcher doesn’t know enough to understand the information retrieved, Young writes.
For instance, if you Google “space station” the Wikipedia entry you pull up is only comprehensible if you already know a bit about “low Earth orbit”, “propulsion”, “research platforms”, etc. The child could perform further searches to plug these gaps, but the same problem will just recur, with him or her being condemned to carry on Googling for ever.
Knowledge is the power to learn more.
“Research on the necessity of background knowledge for reading comprehension is decisive and uncontroversial” — and widely ignored, writes Mark Bauerlein.