Will gadgets make knowledge obsolete?

When everyone can find out anything, anytime, anywhere -- why learn?

Trend No. 5: More information online. There are more than 168 billion Web sites on the Internet, according to an Internet services company called Netcraft. The total number of sites -- not pages, but sites -- increases by roughly 3 million per month. That's a primitive measure, but it's clear that knowledge is going online. Newly generated information increasingly shows up on public servers, and old books and other sources of knowledge are being scanned and digitized at a feverish pace. There are currently more than 2 million English-language articles on the Wikipedia, a number that has doubled since 2006.

Trend No. 6: Improvements in search. The success of Google, which largely leveraged high-quality search to place itself at the center of the technology universe, has focused competitors to innovate in search as well. Now Google has created a search-centric mobile platform called Android that should drive major improvements in mobile-phone Internet searching.

If all these trends continue to develop over the next 10 years, what will the result be? It's impossible to predict, but you can bet we'll all be carrying phones that, with a simple voice command, instantly retrieve exactly the information we're looking for 99 per cent of the time, and from anywhere, 24/7.

What's the difference between this mobile phone of the future and Gibson's vision of "microsoft" chips? The only difference is that the "microsofts" seem clunky, useless and antiquated in comparison to the breathtaking knowledge machine everyone will carry in his or her pocket or purse.

When schoolchildren know with certainty that they will never be without a device that tells them any information they could ever want to know, how motivated will they be to sit there and memorize state capitols and other such trivia? How motivated will schools and teachers be to force this on kids?

The idea that knowledge could become obsolete is a creepy and objectionable one. The pursuit of knowledge is among our most cherished values. But mobile devices and the mobile Internet are already enabling us to deliberately remain ignorant on specific topics we used to have to know. Here are just a few examples.

GPS: In the past, if you wanted to drive to somewhere new, you had to gather information like maps or directions and study them. I've noticed that GPS users come to rely on things like turn-by-turn directions and stop trying to learn anything about where their destination is or how to get there. We hop into our cars in blissful ignorance, simply plugging in an address and obeying our GPS' commands.

Laptops: I do a lot of radio and have noticed that everyone on the radio these days -- the hosts, the guests, etc. -- is sitting in front of an Internet-connected PC or laptop while on the air. Both guests and hosts are on the radio because they're experts or they know something. Yet there's literally no downside to supplementing knowledge in real-time with online resources. People outside broadcasting do this, too, on telephone conference calls and other situations where you can hear the person but not see him. They are, in effect, using their laptops as Gibsonian "microsofts" to augment their knowledge. Using an Internet-connected device when called upon to know something is simply what people do whenever they can.

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