- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
“You see that thing there Papi,” says Mr Five to his dad, pointing at a little icon on the computer screen, then pausing for effect. “That is the internet.”
On the other side of the kitchen helping Miss Nine in her quest to become Iron Chef Aussie, with an offering of garlic prawns, herbed potatoes and honey carrots, I could barely contain the giggles.
“So how do they fit all of that information into that little square?” he then asked, showing the same logic as the 70s kid who unscrewed the casing from the cathode ray tube to try to find the little people inside.
“It’s not all inside that computer,” I chimed in. “It’s lots of computers from all over the world connected up together.”
“How do they do that?” This is where the questions get difficult.
“Using something called TCP IP,” I came back, following the when-in-doubt-use-acronyms logic. “And lots of maths.”
The arithmetic of the internet is gobsmacking. Figures from 2010 suggested that Google, Yahoo and Bing combined dealt with about 40,000 searches a second, 2.3 million a minute, which is 1.2 trillion questions a year. Of course all this begs the question – who asked and answered these questions before the web and what happens when we get them all answered.
There is a theory bouncing around that the ready availability of information is making us dumber, because we no longer have to look and learn slowly, or memorise information in the way we used to.
The brain, it turns out, is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. And the actual search for information turns up a range of associated information, which sometimes turns out to be very relevant.
Take browsing library shelves for example. The books you are actually looking for are invariably surrounded by a range of books on similar subjects, in big libraries the search for a single tome can turn up whole shelves or relevant information before you so much as open a book.
Compare this with the fast information, half-told stories and incomplete pictures people get when they are searching for information on the web. What worries me is that it may result in a whole generation a ill-informed intellectual gumbies.
These are the kids who are surprised to discover the Titanic was a real disaster and not just a movie, the Cold War wasn’t a weather event and the Valkyries were more than attractive Nazi turncoats.
It is almost forgivable that Gen Ys and Zs know little about a bit of history we lived through, such as Y2K and the dotcom crash, although I was floored when no one in a couple of tutorial classes had heard of the SIEV X, as it had happened while they were still in high school. Apparently they were too busy or too bored to watch the news at the time. It is still more concerning when they somehow missed out on big chunks of information we were forced to learn such as the events that lead to World War I, or the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In the same way there’s a slow food movement, where people opt to take time and effort to prepare good wholesome food and enjoy the process, why shouldn’t there be a slow learning movement, where we encourage kids to browse and read widely rather than using Google to pinpoint the data immediately.
So next time Mr Five points to the IE icon on the desktop, we might just switch the computer off and take a walk down to the local library.