Technology and Knowledge: Are They Becoming the Same Thing?

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Gary Schlatter


CTW – 3rd Essay

Technology and Knowledge: Are They Becoming the Same Thing?

In recent discussions of technology, one controversial issue has been whether or not technology is changing people’s definition of knowledge; more specifically, artificializing human intelligence. Technology, in this context, is defined by any device (the Internet, computers, smartphones, etc.) that can provide instant information on any topic. While traditional, formal, or school knowledge is defined by the facts, information, or skills memorized and permanently stored in the human brain through education, in the technological boom currently happening, the modern definition of knowledge is evolving to become more and more centered around technology as people are permitting technology to replace their need for traditional knowledge. Thus, the modern idea of technology lacks a need for human memory as people have become reliant on the Internet and other forms of technology to store essential information for them. Traditional knowledge is part of what makes up wisdom, as wisdom is the culmination of one’s life experiences and knowledge. On the one hand, scholars like Mike Rose and Charles Murray, argue that a person can obtain knowledge through methods other than education, like technology for example. On the other hand, people like Freeman Hrabowski and Sanford J Ungar contend that there is no true substitute for a traditional four-year college education in regards to obtaining true traditional knowledge. They believe that neither technology nor other systems should ever replace education in providing a person the foundation of knowledge that is essential for a successful life. Others, such as Nicholas Carr, even maintain that technology has caused many people to lose their ability to read deeply, think critically, and understand the world around them on their own. My own view is that technology and traditional knowledge are both great and very important aspects to our society today; however, they must be kept separate in order to benefit from both. I believe that as technology and knowledge have begun to infringe upon one another, meaning that people are relying more on technology for their own personal knowledge, it is vital to keep in mind that technology and traditional knowledge cannot replace one another.

The notion of whether a traditional four-year college education is really worth it in today’s world is a viable argument due to the many technological advancements that allow for alternate forms of education or simply no education at all. In the words of Charles Murray, a scholar and well-known author, “a brick-and-mortar campus is increasingly obsolete” (Murray 242). What Murray is saying in his essay, “Are Too Many People Going to College?”, is that as society continues to evolve, the customary form of college education is going out of style. One of the main reasons prompting Murray to make this audacious claim is the increasing availability of technology and the possibilities and opportunities that come with it. Murray offers three main examples of how college campuses are becoming obsolete through technology: the first one is that physical libraries (a large aspect of a college/university) are going extinct due to faster, more efficient forms of research available (such as the internet), the second reason is that physical proximity to a teacher is becoming less important for receiving information due to online streaming, podcasts, etc., and lastly, through distance learning, as distance learning offers possibilities for people as great as obtaining an entire college degree online. Although I accept the fact that technology is creating great opportunities for learning outside of college campuses, I still believe that traditional college is crucial because it teaches life skills, knowledge, and ultimately wisdom that in the long run, all are much more valuable than a degree. Freeman Hrabowski, former president of the University of Maryland, corroborates this idea in his essay, “College Prepares People for Life,” when discussing the successful businessman Walter Sondheim, proclaiming that, “college had given him a strong grounding in the liberal arts and the ability to think broadly” (Hrabowski 262). Hrabowski contends that college not only gives a solid foundation in core life knowledge through the liberal arts, but also a college campus provides a place for people to become exposed to various different schools of thought and cultures that one would not encounter through a computer. In other words, a college campus is an environment conducive to developing important skills that would not otherwise be learned through technology like an online classroom. These important skills and knowledge can range from critical thinking, through the liberal arts, to the constant face-to-face communication with peers and professors. Human interaction and the relationships made at a college is an irreplaceable facet that will also long outweigh the merits of a simple online degree.

A bolder point argued by many in today’s world is not that a college campus becoming obsolete as Murray pointed out, but rather that the entire idea of college (including online degree programs) is going out of style. Again, a large part of why people are beginning to rally behind such presumptions ideas is due to technology and the fact that technology offers much of the information and skills taught in a basic college degree program, except it is all accessible at the touch of a button. Mike Rose, a professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, endorses this perception in his essay, “Blue Collar Brilliance,” as he insists that the knowledge gained from a standard college education is not essential for success in the workplace. In other words, Rose believes that knowledge is a quality that can be gained through other means besides simply a college degree and that knowledge shouldn’t be a determining factor in one’s level of knowledge. Rose acknowledges what he believes to be a common misconception in todays society which is that, “Intelligence is closely associated with formal education – the type of schooling a person has, how much and how long” (Rose 276). The essence of Rose’s assertion is that of schooling not being a viable deciding factor in the level of knowledge one has. Rose’s proclamation may be true when simply talking about schooling and a college education from strictly an academic standpoint, but when considering the ideas above about the new cultures, ideas, and communication skills learned from being exposed to a university environment, people with higher levels of schooling are undoubtedly more knowledgeable than those with less.

The idea that people in today’s world can readily rely on technology for much of the information, skills, and general knowledge that would be taught in a classroom corroborates Rose’s main argument. However, this notion that Rose expresses is actually false because of the fact that as similarly argued above, technology cannot provide the true, traditional life knowledge that is learned through general liberal arts programs in colleges today. Sanford J. Ungar, former president of Goucher College, upholds this point in his essay, “The New Liberal Arts,” as he contends that, “through immersion in the liberal arts, students learn not just to make a living, but also to live a life rich in values and character” (Ungar 232). The essence of Ungar’s argument is the same as that previously argued through the fact that the knowledge and even wisdom learned in liberal arts and other non-degree related education are really where college students are able to benefit the most long after their degrees will serve them.

Not only is technology not a good replacement for the knowledge gained through a college education, but also, humans are becoming increasingly dependent upon the knowledge obtained through the Internet and other technologies, thus defeating true originality in human knowledge. If humans have to rely on technology for knowledge, does that mean that all humans are gradually becoming increasingly alike? Nicholas Carr, a respected journalist and author, wrote an influential article that would endorse this claim as he contends that, “people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine… as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence” (Carr 328). Carr is asserting that humans have come to rely heavily on technology as their main source of information, therefore losing their traditional, memorized own source of knowledge. Because of this loss of traditional knowledge, on our own, without technology, human culture is arguably gradually turning into that of a computer: mindless, numb, and shallow. If we have to rely on artificial intelligence, then we will lose our abilities to think critically for ourselves or read deeply into any sort of material or matter. Nicholas Carr’s essay also corroborates this idea through his declaration that,

In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas… If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with “content” we will sacrifice something important not only in ourselves but in our culture (Carr 327).

The basis of Carr’s assertion is that of because of the brainless “content” we are filling our brains with every day through our overuse of technology, we are losing more and more space in our minds to think on our own and make our own ideas and opinions. “Quiet spaces,” as Carr describes it, are areas of the mind that are open and available for digestion of deep knowledge. To put it another way, these “quiet spaces” are skills that are learned through liberal education such as the ability to think deeply and critically about acquired information and knowledge. “Quiet spaces” exist so that students can develop their own ideas and opinions unhindered by technology and information from elsewhere. But, because we are all losing our quiet spaces to “content” or the mass of information through technology, we as humans have become reliant on technology to do all of our thinking and make all of our decisions. As a result of this, our traditional culture and knowledge is being lost and humans are becoming “machinelike.”

Due to the vast amount of information floating around on the Internet and on our cell phones through mediums such as text messaging and email, as humans, we naturally want to read as much information as possible. Therefore, to efficiently read as much information as possible in the most efficient manner, humans have developed a type of “skim reading.” As an occasional culprit of skim reading myself, I know from experience that it is only possible to comprehend the very surface of whatever is being read. Carr testifies to this point as well when he proclaims, “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski… it’s a different kind of reading… a style that puts ‘efficiency’ and ‘immediacy’ above all else, may be weakening our capacity for… deep reading” (Carr 315-316). In other words, Carr believes that this type of “skim reading” that technology has promoted us to start doing through our want to read as many blogs, posts, articles, etc. on the internet as possible, we have begun to lose the type of deep comprehension and critical thinking skills offered by thorough reading. This is yet another instance of how technology is a threat to our traditional human knowledge because of how it defeats our ability to think about and understand what we read – a trait of traditional knowledge.

I believe that traditional knowledge is a precious ideal that we must hold on to. Just because it is easier to rely on technology to have all the information we need, we still must permanently memorize information, or have forms of formal knowledge because if we eventually do lose all our knowledge or internal information, humans will become imbecilic. Wisdom, which comes from knowledge and personal experience, is impossible to reach through technology because personal experiences can only come from one’s self. Wisdom is part of the reason why knowledge is so important because without true traditional human knowledge, wisdom would not exist, hurting our society even more. Because of the introduction of the massive amounts of technology in our world today, I concede that much of the traditional forms of education, such as college, are considered to be growing outdated, as Murray and Rose would suggest. I am not against the rapid growth in technology, because of the vast possibilities and opportunities that are created through it, but rather I am against the growing human dependence on technology for knowledge, as this leads to a loss of true wisdom in society. In sum, my overall belief is that there should be no connection between humans and technology, even though current trends are leading that way.

Of course, many readers, as well as journalist Clive Thompson, may challenge my view by insisting that since we live in a world filled with technology, we must live in the present. They would insist that we must accept the fact that our culture and general base of knowledge is becoming artificialized and technologically based, and that if we continually fight back against the current flow of trends, we will find ourselves as a society stuck in a rut. Thompson supports this view of accepting reality and reaping the benefits of technology in his essay, “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better,” when he quotes Garry Kasparov in Kasparov’s view of the combination of humans and computers in chess, “Human strategic guidance combined with the tactical acuity of a computer… was overwhelming” (Thompson 346). In his mention of Kasparov’s argument, Thompson is professing the limitless power that emerges from the combination of human intelligence with a computer’s capabilities.

While this may be true in some cases, it is vital to remember the fact that as humans, we must be able to completely separate technology from our culture and traditional knowledge. It would be very easy to develop a dependence on technology if we continue to promote the idea of combining our brains with computers, as mentioned in Thompson’s argument. This is because through combining traditional human knowledge with technology, we would develop a sense that without technology, we would be much less smart and therefore less successful. Dependence on technology is also a scary thought because if some sort of disaster were to happen that caused the Internet, computers, smart phones, etc. to stop working, the very existence of our human race could be in jeopardy. Now, if there were a clear division between traditional knowledge and technology in society, it would be a mere setback in the timeline of human history if all technology were to break down because everyone would not be reliant on technology to give them the information, skills, and ideas needed to get by. We would also still be able to benefit from computers and our own base of knowledge.

True formal knowledge and furthermore, wisdom, are precious ideals in today’s world that are currently on a steep decline in prominence due to all of the current forms of technology and how this technology is affecting the human mind and mode of thinking. Technology has provided an artificial knowledge base for humans that will only keep growing as society keeps advancing. This artificial knowledge base is increasingly replacing the classic form of a college education in society, leaving many people without the traditional knowledge and wisdom obtained on a university campus that could not otherwise be realized through any form of technology whatsoever. The creation of clear divisions between technology and knowledge is essential in preserving true, traditional human knowledge and wisdom, because without a division, over time humans will lose all of their knowledge and wisdom that is crucial for success in life and the advancement of our society.

Works cited:

Graff, Gerald, Cathy Birkenstein, and Russel Durst. They Say / I Say. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014. Print.

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