Why kids know less these days than their parents did

Internet means distributed knowledge.

Just as companies no longer store all their customer, order, sales, billing, product, etc. information in one database (but rather split it up over many with pointers to allow table joins), nowadays people don’t need to store all information inside their heads. It’s inefficient. Rather, they store pointers to the information. The internet is the latest and greatest extension of this heuristic.

Take couples, for example. It has been shown that couples will naturally share the information-bearing responsibility across partners since it is more efficient for the woman to remember all say work related information, while the husband may store all the child-care related information. Instead of storing two sets of information duplicatively, couples will naturally split the responsibility and know to call the other if they need to draw on information outside of their own local database (the pointer).

Such is with the internet, or really any external body of knowledge. Before, it used to be about books and libraries and knowing which book to look in for information. Now it’s merely knowing how to query that information from the internet, since the largest library that ever existed is literally at our fingertips.

In the future, classes will be less focused on teaching material, and the best students will be masters not in storing and retaining information, but in querying and applying it.

So, yes, kids these days are storing less information inside their heads than their parents did. Instead of a vast encyclopedia of knowledge, they store a small subset of that knowledge along with pointers to where their various gaps can be accessed. It is up to us to ensure our educational systems can adapt and teach our children more on how to apply information and less about retaining it.

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