In with the old?

“Before the Internet was discovered, a century was equal to a thousand years” (Henry David Thoreau)

The Internet has changed everything. Where we were once passive consumers of media, now we are all creators of it. Traditional methods are cast aside as we invent new paradigms every day. Etcetera, etcetara, etcetara.

Has it though? Is this age such a momentous one? It would be churlish to argue that the Internet hasn’t had a profound effect on how we live our lives. When broadband goes down – as it did at work this week – I am reminded how dependent I am on it to perform even the most basic of tasks. However, we have been here before.

I have misquoted Henry David Thoreau above. He was not referring to the Internet. He was referring to the invention of the printing press. A device that promised to usher in a new era of mass communication where many more people could access much more information. It did have profound consequence, but did it change how people learn?

After all, the knowledge of the world may exist in my phone but will I know how to use it? Can I build an engine if I were to read the wikipedia page on thermodynamics:

The plain term ‘thermodynamics’ refers to macroscopic description of bodies and processes.”Any reference to atomic constitution is foreign to classical thermodynamics.”The qualified term ‘statistical thermodynamics’ refers to descriptions of bodies and processes in terms of the atomic constitution of matter, mainly described by sets of items all alike, so as to have equal probabilities.

I’m sure that it would if I spent time working out what terms like ‘macroscopic’ mean, and making sense of the concepts that they refer to, then I could start to build an engine. However, the information is no use to me until I do, and I am not any use to anybody else who wants to build an engine. As such I cannot even begin to ‘recognise the patterns’ in the chaos of stuff. As such, even if learning is no longer a lonely process, there is still room for an individual revelation. We are not just nodes of information.

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