19 July 2011


A Huffington Post video cites two studies which demonstrate the effect which Google, Wikipedia, and other online resources have on how much and how well we remember facts. In the first study, reported in the NYTimes, "subjects were significantly more likely to remember information if they thought they would not be able to find it later [on a computer]." In the second study, "people were better at remembering where to find facts, rather than the facts themselves."

So are we tech addicts? Have online search resources become a crutch to our self-crippled thinking, or might they be simply the newest iteration of non-memory aids we've always sought out ~ a library, a well-informed friend, a teacher or mentor? I would suggest, a little of both. It has always been important to understand where to find information which we don't know. To that extent, online search engines and encyclopedias are legitimate, useful, accessible, and quick. Google, Wikipedia, and other resources are especially useful to us as we age and begin to experience slight memory lapses.

However .... it is also true that increasingly, looking it up online has to some degree lessened the extent to which we commit information to memory in the first place. When I compare my instant recall of math (times tables, decimal-percent equivalents, mental calculations, algebra), of geography (quick, without looking at a map or a globe, where is Botswana? Sri Lanka?), of U.S. or world history, of language and literature .... when I compare my recall to that of people in their 20s and 30s with comparable education, there's no contest. Those who grew up with the technology cannot get through a day (even an hour) without it ~ like an artificial appendage. Young people know a lot about where to find information, but how much information do they themselves really know?

I would suggest that it is critical to cultivate both skills -- information retention and information retrieval from outside sources. To neglect either is to impose a needless disadvantage on oneself. The quickest and best thinkers I know are those people (scientists, artists, educators, voracious readers) who are today's Renaissance Men and Women, with varied interests, lively curiosity, open minds, and a thirst for understanding.

ORGANIC MYTHS. High praise to Christie Wilcox and her blog Science Sushi at the Scientific American website for her illuminating piece titled Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Conventional Agriculture. This is informed, persuasive, and balanced science writing at its best. Far from being an attack on either organic or conventional farming, Mythbusting seeks clarity in a field obscured by hype. Each myth presented is defined, then examined closely to reveal what is actually true (or false), and why. Here are the four myths she addresses:

~ Myth 1: Organic farms don't use pesticides.

~ Myth 2: Organic foods are healthier.

~ Myth 3: Organic farming is better for the environment.

~ Myth 4: It's all or none.

What? WHAT? Can this really be true? Well, yes. Wilcox' information is supported by clear research, and her conclusions are both logically and intuitively inescapable. Must reading for anyone who includes organic foods in her/his diet, not to mention anyone who does not. Did I leave anyone out?

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