Homo Informaticus: How "Pervasive Information Technology" Is Transforming Humanity

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Homo Informaticus: How "Pervasive Information Technology" Is Transforming Humanity

Throughout history, every new way of conveying knowledge has been accused of making people lazier and less intelligent.

More than 2,400 years ago, the Greek philosopher Socrates argued against writing as a means of conveying knowledge, saying that it would destroy people's ability to remember what they learned.  Without prodigious memory and the deep and complex structure of learning that it engenders, we would come to skim over texts and receive a false sense of knowledge.  Writing, Socrates feared, would create a culture of people who not only couldn't remember, but who thought they were educated when in reality they were ignorant. 

The printing press was greeted with similar alarm when it appeared in the 15th century.  Medieval scholars feared that it would lead people to become lazy and that it would ultimately weaken their minds.  The proliferation of books and pamphlets would make a mockery of the work of scholars and their scribes.

Those may seem like eccentric views today, but the critics also had an important point to make:  The way we take in and communicate information influences how we think, even as it confers upon us new and useful powers. 

Writing did decrease the need for prodigious memory, and in doing so, it made modern people less able to memorize.  In addition, printing did spread sedition and debauchery, even while making scribes obsolete.  In exchange for such losses, however, we gained the ability to consult books on every conceivable subject and have a much broader range of information available to us.  What we couldn't remember, we could always look up. 

Perhaps we did become wider and shallower as a result, but writing and printing touched off a scientific revolution that made possible our way of life today.

A similar transformation is taking place as a result of the technological revolution involving computing, communications, biotech, and nanotech.  We can also expect similar transformations of our way of life, our business, and even our way of thinking to come out of it.

In an issue of the Atlantic Monthly1 last summer, an article ran under the title, "What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains."  The subhead read:  "Is Google Making Us Stoopid?"  The author was Nicholas Carr, a former executive editor of Harvard Business Review who wrote The Big Switch:  Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google...

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