Internet threatens learning process

On an episode of The Simpsons that recently debuted, a hip, new fourth-grade teacher asked his students’ about the’ Monroe Doctrine. As a nerdy boy named Martin began to answer, the teacher interrupted, ‘Are you telling me you memorized that fact, when anyone with a cell phone can find it out in 30 seconds?’

Martin then lamented, ‘I’ve crammed my head full of garbage!’

Poor Martin. In a class where homework is 20 minutes of tweeting, all his hours spent memorizing dates, places, facts and figures were rendered worthless.

If only he realized that he represents the only hope for humanity.

The Internet has made information more than readily available; today, information is over-available. We have too much of it. If you doubt this, check your Facebook page to see how many of your friends are informing the world that they are sleeping.

Of course, things are not quite as bad as they appear in the satirical world of The Simpsons. Schoolchildren still have real homework. They still have to study for tests and memorize facts such as the origins of the Monroe Doctrine.

But who knows what the future holds?

The changes wrought by the spread of the Internet have come so fast and are so widespread that commentators can only conjecture what the landscape will look like in 10, or even five, years. We may reach a point in the human timeline when certain facts and fields of study are turned over to the collective consciousness of the World Wide Web and abandoned as intellectual endeavors.

In other words, it will have been thoroughly agreed upon and documented what the Monroe Doctrine is, and that information will be sealed and put away on a digital shelf in cyberspace. It will be available for any curious person to immediately access any time, anywhere, but will be otherwise forgotten.

But how long will intellectual curiosity survive within us if it is not fed? When the last remaining Martins of the world decide that learning for its own sake is not worth the effort, our society will be in big trouble. The world needs people like Martin, and the rest of us could learn a lesson from him.

If we only look up from our wirelessly connected laptops to ask the professor, ‘Is this going to be on the test?,’ we have missed the entire point of education. The goal of education is to ignite a student’s passion for scholarship in the hope that they will build on what has already been discovered and thereby move the human race forward.

The question is whether the Internet helps build the knowledge that will advance humanity. Clearly, most information one obtains from Twitter and Facebook is useless.

Although ubiquitous Internet connectivity makes it perpetually possible to peruse information on an infinite number of scholarly topics, we are quickly tipping the scales in favor of the trivial material being added to the Web, outweighing the useful.

Only time will tell if the Internet will remain a helpful tool, or if we come to rely on it to think for us, giving us all day to ‘zzzzz’ and ‘LOL.’

Jared Luck is a communication senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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