Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Knowing, Missouri and the Internet

If you've spent any length of time around a person from Missouri, or somewhere close like western Illinois, you'll know that it's quite unlikely she/he will take your word for it. "Show me" will be the cry which until recently, say the last 10 or so years, was frequently next to impossible. So one lived one's life with a sense of uncertainty about what one knew, or thought one knew.

The other day in the science part of my undergraduate class we had been doing a neat GEMS activity to explore our fingerprints when someone asked if identical twins had the same finger prints. Since no-one knew we looked it up on the Internet and discovered that indeed they did not. Someone then asked  if they had the same DNA to which Kristen, one of the students replied confidently, "Yes they do".

Unbelievably, my first reaction was to say "OK, lets check on the 'net to see if Kristen is right". Immediately, I stopped myself remembering how I had felt the previous week when no-one believed me when I was talking about cow magnets. I should have realized that Kristen's confident response meant that she was sure of what she knew.

Is this, I wonder, an example of the changing source of knowledgeable authority that researchers are seeing in high school students? Are we becoming a nation, or even a world, in which personal knowledge is suspect because the information, like God, is just a mouse-click away?  Is the accumulation of knowledsge and wisdom by the older generation being replaced or usurped by instant access to everything?

As long as we can access it instantly we don't need to remember or know it, perhaps? On the other hand, is everything we know subject to scrutiny because of the instant verification afforded by the internet? Are we becoming a nation of doubters?

I sincerely hope not; personal knowledge and understanding is what makes us unique and  uniquely human.

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