The “outsourced brain”

socrates vrDavid Brooks’ Op-Ed piece “The Outsourced Brain” in the New York Times is a must read for educators. Beginning with a GPS goddess that gently steers the author in the right direction, Brooks goes on to invoke his use of calculators for math (a given), iTunes for musical selection, search engines for memory of spot knowledge, smart phones for all the personal details we used to memorize, and finally syncing it all together with the wisdom of crowds that actually makes such “choices” with more validity than most of our own decisions.

It’s a fresh look with a bit of tongue in cheek, but what I love is that there’s plenty of common sense that’s obvious for any who live much of life “enhanced” by the New WWW (90% of those between 12 and 25?). What I find interesting is that many teachers object on something like moral grounds: “it’s just not natural,” “not the way it should be,” “isn’t what was good enough for us,” etc. These comments remind me of two anecdotes related to change. First, we know that Socrates objected to writing as it would diminish the power of the brain and oratory. The fact that what this wisest of men said was true didn’t alter the outcome: tablets, papyrus, scribes, Gutenberg, newsprint, paperbacks, Webpages, etc. “Digging in” against change “on principle” is no more valid than excusing ones self due to skill deficits or technophobia. Professionals work within reality to continuously improve what they do.

The second anecdote I’m reminded of springs from the complaints made by the parents of many of today’s veteran teachers during the last Generation Gap. The complaints could have been about Rock ‘n’ Roll or cohabitation. Even though parents in the 60s didn’t like the, these seismic shifts, they are now mainstream: The Beatles are Muzak and living together commonplace. The point of this minor rant is that many in education have to get over the “liking it” delusion. Not liking the firestorm doesn’t dampen the flames, but turning your back on it is likely to get you burned and place our children at risk.  Maybe part of the trick is learning to live in a reality that seems so unreal?

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