Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Trail and Error Vs. Google

A couple of years ago, I attended a semi-monthly intellectual gathering where people improve their leadership skills. One way was by improving their public speeches skills. During that meeting I was asked a surprising random question that, at the time, seemed nonsense.
The question was: can you imagine how life would be without electricity?
I stood there nervously, fumbled few random sentences and went back to my seat with two steaming hot red ears.

I must admit that the question haunted me that night: how would we live without electricity? But why would it? Why do I have to worry about such a fallible question? In fact, as it turned out, the question isn’t fallible at all.

Now, I can't stress how critical this question is, because in essence, electricity is a reflective metaphor for the age we inhabit now. Can you imagine surviving a day without Google, Facebook, or iPad? According to the internationally acclaimed author Marc Prensk, in a staggering study, kids spend over 10,000 hours playing videogames, over 200,000 emails and instant messages sent and received; over 10,000 hours talking on digital cell phones; over 20,000 hours watching TV. All before they turn 21. And more depressingly, at most, they read books for 5,000 hours. "Our students today are all native speakers of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet." Says Marc Prenk,  "They're digital natives." Meaning they are born breathing the air of the digital world. The issue here is the illusion of sociability those digital natives inherent from those interactions. But meaningful human interactions differ between a multi user on-line game and real life.

I think we innately associate modern day advances to the existence of technologies such as Google. After all, there are roughly 91 million searches being performed on Google daily, and over 2 billion monthly according to Danny Sullivan, the founder and editor of SearchEngineWatch.com. That, it should be pointed out, is an enormous amount of information sought on Google. It makes you wonder to whom those questions were directed in the era of BG (Before Google).
We frequently attribute the success of modern revolutions to Twitter and Facebook. Social media seems to be the new face of expressing opinions.
But the problem is that when an invention is a success, we tend to celebrate its advantages, but neglect and overlook its side effects. Our infatuation takes over and blinds us to its perils.
Can you imagine how behind the world would be without those platforms?

I'm actually convinced with the contrary. If we're to study history, or the BG era, we will clearly find that our intellectual ancestors have survived, invented, innovated, led revolutions, and achieved scientific progresses without those platforms.

Can we say that we didn't find a cure for AIDS because Google doesn't provide enough access to information? Of course not. Real breakthroughs occur because of sheer passion, hard work, risk-taking and lots of trial and error. The economist Nassim Taleb says: "it is true that the more we search, the more likely we are to find things by accident, outside the original plan." And a prepared mind is someone who had accumulated knowledge about a certain topic till that person got a breakthrough. Perhaps that quote is understood best when we study the invention of radioactivity, Coke, plastic, Penicillin, and Viagra. What's common among those inventions? They were, respectively, invented in 1896, 1904, 1907, 1928, and 1992. All before the Information Technology revolution, or the BG era.

Was there a hashtag named #IHaveADream when Martin Luther King performed his speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Freedom? How the 250,000 demonstrators did know when and where the march was happening? Definitely not following the account @MLKing. Those who attended there were there because of genuine anger and emotions. They followed the news because they were interested in the cause.

Some claim that we can end illiteracy if we had better equipped schools and if each student had an iPad. But is that true? Changes in the structure of education stem from the meaningful interaction between teachers and students. Sure, it would be nice and more efficient if each student had a laptop, but that doesn't replace the fact that change is defined and implemented through those who pursue it, not the tools. They help, but they aren't the main drive. You can't replace passion with an iPhone app.

In a study comparing reading from printed books, e-books on tablets and PCs, readers declared that reading a printed book was more relaxing and quicker than reading from those devices. The iPad measured at 6.2% lower reading speed than the printed book, whereas the Kindle measured at 10.7% slower than print.

Of course, this essay is not an invitation to dump the tools we have today, but rather to give credits were credits are due, and that's curiosity, passion, hard work, risk-taking acceptance, and trial and error. And a mind that's prepared with such an arsenal is more likely to score a breakthrough. Kindle of course is a device that has facilitated readings and opened new vistas to book-lovers, but that doesn't mean it'll overtake the value of printed book.

I would love to end here with a story that captures the essence and sums what I'm trying to say. Online writer engineer Mike Schaffner mentions a funny encounter when he received an email from a reader asking: shouldn't "don't won't" be "don’t want"? The reader was referring to an early article written by Mike. And Mike's explanation of the error was: "I put my brain on hold and over relied on technology, i.e. the spell checker, to make sure things were right." And that's the real problem with our infatuation with technology; we  think it makes life easy, but in fact it's taking over our intellectual prowess, and it shouldn't.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more.. Previously at an open-group discussion with a group of students I witnessed a horrendous debate on conventional methods Vs. Computational methods.. It surely is a huge dilemma.. Is technology a boon or curse??

    I suppose the answer lies in judicious use of methods..