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by Rob Horning

12 May 2009

Peter Suderman’s contribution to the “Is Google making us stupid” debate has already attracted some attention. Suderman’s contention is that anytime access to all the information on the internet is making us smart in a different way—rather than signaling intellegence by having facts memorized, we demonstrate intelligence by knowing where to find information online. The internet becomes collective memory, and intelligence is a factor of who has the best system for accessing that memory. Hence, as he titles his post, “your brain is an index.”

Books taught us to think like they do — as tools for storing extensive knowledge. Now the web teaches us to think like it does — as a tool for recall and connection. We won’t be so good at memorizing everything there is to know about a particular small-bore topic, but we’ll be a lot better at knowing what there is to be known about the broader category the topic fits into, and what other information might provide insight and context.

He may be right about this, but that is exactly what people are afraid of. Suderman’s focus on memory and data retrieval seems to ignore the aspects of intelligence that involve synthesizing ideas and making argumentative leaps, and more to the point, that involve hanging with an intricate and long-winded argument and understanding how it works and what its weaknesses are. The fear that critics of internet-mediated consciousness have is that we’ll lose the ability to formulate these critiques because we will have regressed into the habit of searching for what has already been said and latching on to whatever superficial information ebbs up from that search. As Kevin Drum, who yearns to be sympathetic with Suderman, is forced to point out,

Understanding ‘broader categories’ — the context into which individual pieces of knowledge fit — requires you to read books. Full stop…. Kids who grow up on the internet may be great at looking up odd bits of information quickly, but my experience is that they often suck at figuring out what that information means and what conclusions it’s reasonable to draw from it. That’s because they don’t know the context. They don’t know the rest of the story. And that’s because they don’t read enough books.

Matt Yglesias wonders why Drum picks on the internet and fetishizes the book as a mode of learning, though Suderman himself seems to grant Drum’s point, following up his post with links to some reference books. But the deeper question has to do with whether the mountains of data now available to us inhibits thought or enables it, or has no particular effect on the quality of thought. It’s great to be able to look up specific information and get it quickly—to be able to pull up texts and search them for half-remembered phrases, for example. But chasing down information online tends to generate a centrifugal force that takes one out of the orbit of the original inquiry. The promise of more and different and enticing stimuli is always there, and our battle against distraction seems always to become more difficult. I’m not sure if the opportunity for distraction makes it inevitable, or if that’s just me. Maybe I need to try meditation.

by Sarah Zupko

12 May 2009

The year’s best Americana record so far is Ryan Bingham’s upcoming Roadhouse Sun. Lost Highway releases the album on June 2nd, but you can listen to a stream on the album over on the label’s site.

Ryan Bingham
Roadhouse Sun [Stream]

by PopMatters Staff

12 May 2009

The video for Mos Def’s new single “Case Bey” has premiered on MySpace. The hip-hoppers long awaited new album The Ecstatic will finally see the light on day on 9 June.

Mos Def
“Casa Bey” [MP3]

by L.B. Jeffries

12 May 2009

It’s one of gaming culture’s odd habits that developers will typically discover a successful game design without really understanding what they’ve got their hands on. You can test something out with audiences and see if people like it, but there is often little time left for the why of the whole process. One of the most prevalent places this exists is in matching games like Bejeweled and the casual knock-offs that expand on the concept. Jason Kapalka comments on an interview at Casualgames.biz that these games are almost primal in their simplicity: connect 3 blocks of a matching color in a randomly generated screen. Most Bejeweled 2 knock-offs just provide the player additional combos for the player so that it is just expanding on the original theme without changing the basic process. You are channeling the innate desire to find order in chaotic systems while balancing the need for finding that order to be easy to manage.

by Diepiriye Kuku

12 May 2009

I love Michael Jackson.  I would like to say that I appreciate his artistry, his mad song writing skills or his fantastic musical arrangements, all of which is certainly true. I would rather just say that I respect the sacrifices he and his family made for fame or fulfillingness’ first finale. For whatever reasons Joe and Katharine—sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson—did it, they discovered magic and/or cultivated it (most likely the latter with Tito!).  If you have ever been to Gary, Indiana you can imagine that it takes a surreal level of blood, sweat and tears for anyone, let alone a black family, to rise up out of that place. Mind you, I have never visited Gary, yet have passed by that old industrial city several times. My folks would regularly drive that route up I-65 between Louisville and Kenosha, Wisconsin to visit family. On the bypass around Gary, all my aunt would ever say is “Oh, that’s not on our way”, in response to my pleas to at least drive by the Jackson’s home, or at least see how the city has acknowledged its undoubtedly most famous offspring—or at least the ones most relevant to me. 

It was only years later that I understood that my folks just got in the habit of not stopping in any odd town along American highways, as a result of conditioning from segregation in the Jim and Jane Crow South—like so many of us, my folks hail from ‘Bama, hence real-life experiences with that chapter in American history are plentiful. It was forbidden and dangerous when they were younger to stop in unknown places. By my early teens, however, they had replaced aluminum-foil-wrapped fried chicken—no, not from that fast food chain, we fried our own and Colonel Sanders’, too—with a pit stop at Cracker Barrel. From the highway, Gary, Indiana looked mighty industrial, grey, dismal and virtually deserted. To me, Gary looked like one of those places that black people should avoid; it was clear that the Jackson family had more than a side order of We gotta get up out this place, behind some of those high “hee, hees”, snaps and slides across the floor.

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