September 19, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
Intelligence in the Internet age
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ago on Sept. 8, factor 9,982 and Pi, or describe a weather system over the Pacific Ocean. But without his "smart" phone, he can't recall his daughter's telephone number offhand.
It's a familiar circumstance for people living in the hyper-connected Internet age, when it has become easier to program a cell phone or computer--instead of your brain--to recall facts or other essential information. In some sense, our digital devices do the thinking for us now, helping us with everything from calendar scheduling and local directions to in-depth research and "Jeopardy"-like trivia.
"It's true we don't remember anything anymore, but we don't need to," said Hawkins, the co-founder of Palm Computing and author of a book called "On Intelligence."
"We might one day sit around and reminisce about having to remember phone numbers, but it's not a bad thing. It frees us up to think about other things. The brain has a limited capacity, if you give it high-level tools, it will work on high-level problems," he said.
Only 600 years ago, people relied on memory as a primary means of communication and tradition. Before the printed word, memory was essential to lawyers, doctors, priests and poets, and those with particular talents for memory were revered. Seneca, a famous teacher of rhetoric around A.D. 37, was said to be able to repeat long passages of speeches he had heard years before. "Memory," said Greek playwright Aeschylus, "is the mother of all wisdom."
People feared the invention of the printing press because it would cause people to rely on books for their memory. Today, memory is more irrelevant than ever, argue some academics.
"What's important is your ability to use what you know well. There are people who are walking encyclopedias, but they make a mess of their lives. Getting a 100 percent on a written driving test doesn't mean you can drive," said Robert Sternberg, dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University and a professor of psychology.
Tomorrow: A look at what makes us smart in the Internet age. And what happens when the lights go out?
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