Inspiration for my blog posts often comes from whatever’s evoking emotion in my life (annoyances, victories, gripes, etc.). Three things happened today that ensured that I’d write this post. Here’s the story of a question from a seven year old, a phone call, and an email.
The first incident was a common one. My son asked me what the circumference of the earth was (ok – he didn’t use the word ‘circumference’, but that’s what he asked). Like a trained seal, I grabbed my smart-phone and looked it up. This was stupid, because a) I knew the answer, and b) even if I didn’t, I know enough about distances between locations and longitude to come up with a fairly accurate approximation.
Just a bit later in the morning, I had a short interview with a journalist from my university – apparently they’re hard up for stories and are reaching out to alumni for gossip. At one point, the journalist asked something like, “What advice do you have for students today?”. I gave a long answer that said (more or less), “A university isn’t a vocational school. Although you may get caught up in the rat race of learning facts and writing papers, to be successful in the ‘real world’, you need to know how to learn.” I also (once again) credited my Methods of Musical Research course and Dr. Snedeker for teaching me how to learn and for fueling my own passion for learning.
Less than thirty minutes later, I received an email response to a verbal request. I asked someone to research a topic and see if they could find any interesting papers that could foster additional discussion on the topic. They replied with a link to paper that shows up as the top link in Bing when searching on the exact phrase as the topic I presented. I expected my colleague to look at academic papers, and perhaps explore the references in those papers, or to find experts in the field and see what they wrote. I expected them to research…but I guess to them, ‘search’ was enough.
Perhaps I’m just being an old fart, but the serendipity of these three events launched a thought that scared the crap out of me. In these days of search engines and Wikipedia, I wonder if anyone knows how to think anymore. Knowledge is much more than learning or regurgitating facts. The learning that happens when you move knowledge from something you don’t know to something you do know is trivial compared to when you add discovering what you don’t know you don’t know to the top of the stack (1). I’m scared that too many people (not just testers) are happy with on-demand fact finding rather than true learning and discovery.
It could be just me – perhaps I spend so much time reading and trying to learn because that’s what works for me, and that on-demand learning is the true future. But if that’s true, I worry what kind of future that will be.