Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Waiting for 2010 #5: Knowledge Is Cheap; Learning Is Expensive

I'm probably going to stop numbering these rants, waiting for 2010. Then again, it would look cool to see these numbers ascend. In any case, here's my rant for today:

I tried Wolfram Alpha today. I'm not quite sure how I can use this "search engine," but I tried out some nifty functions: (1) It can calculate my age in days (I'm several thousands of days old); (2) it can tell me the temperature, humidity, and wind speed in my locality; and (3) it can do some advanced math.

Seriously, it can solve parabolic equations from algebra and a bunch of other stuff I've forgotten over the years. If I had Wolfram Alpha (or even Wolfram Mathematica) in high school, I wouldn't have had to learn how to do these things (for which I have little use these days) the long way.

This got me thinking about Internet technologies and how they have made things "easier" for several tasks, and whether the old-school "long way" is better. We can search for virtually anything on Google, but it takes a certain skill set to effectively research offline and online. We can roughly translate many languages with Babel Fish (et al.), but it takes patience and brain cells to actually learn that language - even with Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone courses. We can learn various historical information and trivia from Wikipedia, but it takes real soul to learn from history.

There's the old cliche/proverb that says it's better to learn to fish than to be given a fish - you know how it goes (or you can Google it). These new technologies still enable people to learn how to fish, albeit with a motorized fishing pole with a bunch of supplemental gizmos. Unfortunately, "advanced" technology can fail, crash, or mislead from time to time. While it's good to embrace technology (which I'm continually doing), it's always good to remember that old-school (and older-school, and oldest-school) methods exist, and it's a plus to have a little know-how of how things were done before Google.

You know...just in case you're mysteriously transported back to 1997 or something. ::boom:: LOST

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