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Head In The Cloud

The Power of Knowledge in the Age of Google

William Poundstone

J. Lo film The Boy Next Door had a scene where guy had a "first edition of the Iliad and Odyssey". The film makers were either confident that the audience for J.Lo wouldn't know such a thing was unpossible, or they themselves didn't realize it. J. Lo's character was an English teacher.

John Cleese explained the Dunning-Kruger Effect: "If you're very very stupid, how can you possibly know? You would have to be slightly intelligent to realize that .... and this explains Fox News."

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People talk about the failures of GPS as if human drivers never make a mistake.

Instead of fear that you will be replaced by a machine, newer fear that you will be replaced by a lower-skilled human augmented by computer (London cabbies with "the Knowledge" out-competed by Uber drivers with digital maps).

When American schools tried to drop the teaching of cursive writing from curriculum, nostalgia industry got it reinstated, arguing that it "engaged more areas of brain" than keyboard writing. But the argument should have been 'What else could be taught if we dropped x or y?'

This is the golden age of rationalized ignorance. Information is being produced, devalued and made obsolete at a staggering rate.

The Google Effect: we are more likely to forget facts if we think they are stored online. Taken to logical conclusion, if we will able to record everything we see and do 24/7, will we then become total amnesiacs?

Generational divide over plagiarism. Older academics traditional view that stealing, while younger ones think 'It's easy and all stuff is there to be used, so how can it be wrong?'

Lots of surveys showing peoples' ignorance of geography. But one telling example asked people to find Ukraine on world map with boundaries shown. 1 in 12 could find it but many put it in US or in ocean. But kicker was that the further away from true location your guess was, the more likely you were to support armed intervention there. Another survey of geog knowledge also asked whether thought a wall between USA and Mexico was a good idea. And predictably, the less competent you were at geography, the more likely you were to support a wall. And asked true or false to the statement "Scientists believe that early human hunted dinosaurs", those who thought it was true unanimously supported wall.

Paul Krugman "It's hard to think of a major policy dispute where the facts actually matter. It's unshakable dogma, across the board." But it's hard to have a rational argument with a fanatic about his fanaticism.

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