How much do we need to know?

The argument for keeping knowledge and memory on our devices instead of our heads has far-reaching implications for the way we function in the real world. How much geography should we know? Or history? Only what we are interested in or some that should be imposed starting at the school level?

Self-discovery is over-rated. It’s a lot like eating. If we were to eat only what we like, our diet would comprise of things that are largely unhealthy. The food trend in the US, where junk food is cheaper than vegetables has led to a lop-sided consumption pattern – leading to obesity and health complications affecting a sizeable percentage of the population.

The same is true of knowledge. If we were to indulge only in what we were really interested in, without making any significant effort outside of our interest areas, we are digging a tunnel. Most of us would not dig very deep – because going into a subject in-depth requires a lot of dedicated effort. And the effort is being given step-sisterly importance.

We’re obsessed with making things easy to follow, rather than encouraging and rewarding effort. Working hard is for chumps. We’re more focused on results than discovery. Everything is about outcomes rather than the process where mistakes are a natural part of the learning. Indian schools place the emphasis on rote learning – rather than self-discovery. But look at Indian and Chinese kids beating the pants off their counterparts in schools in the US and you question the way education in the US has evolved. General Knowledge – an essential component of every Indian curriculum is about sampling knowledge across diverse topics. How will you know what you are interested in unless you go through a wide variety of subjects in school or at any time in life? On our jobs, we tend to know more and more about the single area in which we operate. Like cultural diversity leads to dynamism in the genetic pool, we need to seed our knowledge streams. How will creativity develop unless you first encourage a deep dive into diverse knowledge pools? Or even impose it at school?

Today, there is convergence on subjects as far apart as mathematics and stock investing. To test the first artificial retina, it required specialists from medicine, biology, physics, chemistry, industrial design, and manufacturing to collaborate. Multi-disciplinary skills are only going to make us far more employable rather than narrow skills. The world has veered around from needing specialists for a single job to requiring multi-disciplinary specialists.

So how much do we need to know? As much as we can possibly absorb. The stuff on our devices does not draw conclusions or cross reference data or make unique linkages like our brains do. It doesn’t analyse or pick up anomalies. And we will be shorting our brains if we don’t serve up the exercise. Recent studies have shown that learning a new language, especially as we grow older can significantly increase neural activity and delay dementia. Which is another word for brain atrophy.