at your fingertips“

Currently, there’s the Wikimania running in Frankfurt. That made me think about a few things. Lately, I’ve realized that the web offers a wealth of information „at my fingertips“:

I can look at places with Google Maps or Google Earth, can amaze people that I can quote verbatim from books using Amazons Search Inside, draw up on online references with Wikipedia, Google or Leo and get consumer reviews and prices online.

For those who know how to search, nothing is impossible to know, it seems. There are howto’s for countless things.

The question is, does that actually make me smarter ?

Or does it only make me appear smarter. Worse, might it make me lazy and dumb even? Back in school, thoroughly reading and learning something helped to memorize it. It created additional skills one could use later. Only by actively working with something, one can learn it. Simply drawing up a reference might degrade knowledge to trivia. I don’t actually bother to memorize how to write a proper MySQL syntax anymore. There’s a good online reference that I can use. And as I don’t write MySQL every day, that’s probably acceptable. But a few years ago, I probably would have sat down, and really learned these things.

Ultimately, I’ll leave these questions to those who have an actual knowledge about how the human mind works. This fear won’t leave me though; that in just gathering knowledge and making it available to everyone freely, we’re actually making people less educated than before.

Can companies be „not evil“

We all know that Googles motto is "Don't be evil". They claim that although they are admittedly out to make money, there are moral barriers they won’t break.

That’s fine and dandy, but… 

  • Pagerank is obviously a very powerful tool when it comes to actually affect peoples minds (People rarely scroll to the 3rd page of results. Put information you want to keep out of peoples minds there, instead on page 1, and no one will bother.)
  • They are capable gathering a slew of personal information without us noticing. Who knows, if at some point in time, someone gets tempted ?
  • Monopoly: Already a majority of internet users only use google. If it would be gone right now, I would be sorely handicapped. What if they suddenly charge money, or use this for political leverage ? 

The list of concerns could be made longer and longer. So, there is a definite danger, despite what Google claims.