Watching the Google Waves from the near distance, searching Topsy for something about Turvy but knowing only Bing would understand my true context, I listened to Mahler’s cowbells and mandolin in Symphony #7 and waited. Yeah, it sounds nuts, and it is pretty spacey. Just like when I am on a conference call with a large group of folks, and one voice on the line, not on mute, but wishing later that they had been, starts talking about the divorce papers or house closing or lawn care. Or the errant email messages destined for anyone but me, and poorly thought-through Tweets capturing fragments of thoughts. Or the utterly bizarre search responses from a search engine.
Here is the thing: I’m reading whatever I can about the evolutionary impact of social networking tools and search engines on the brain. Maybe we can evolve more quickly than I think. Until then here is a thought: many of the folks you are interacting with over the internet or telephone are using a very shallow knowledge augmentation not dissimilar to Kevin Spacey’s character, Verbal Kint, in the movie The Usual Suspects. If you saw the film (and if you haven’t, you are missing a treat), Roger “Verbal” Kint is under police interrogation, and over the next several hours spins an incredible tale that grabs the detective. Of course, Verbal has just been reading random quotes and headlines and receipts off of the wall behind the detective’s head.
Yes, all of these search and communication tools are very cool, and very powerful, but a dolt is still a dolt, and a dilettante is still going to have only the most tenuous grasp of a subject – but they sound ever more informed because with the click of a button they can call up arcane facts, or Tweet out to their posse and find an angle.
I’d still encourage expertise over the clever. Stick with Alexander Pope’s dictum, “A little learning is a dangerous thing, drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring.” (Pierian: a well of knowledge, from the Satyricon of Petronius. And YES, I googled that.)