How Technology Makes Us Smarter and More Uncertain

When I do long division or even multiplication I don’t try to remember the intermediate numbers. Long ago I learned to write them down. Because of paper and pencil I am “smarter” in arithmetic. In a similar manner I now no longer to try remember facts, or even where I found the facts. I have learned to summon them on the Internet. Because the Internet is my new pencil and paper, I am “smarter” in factuality.

But my knowledge is now more fragile. For every accepted piece of knowledge I find, there is within easy reach someone who challenges the fact. Every fact has its anti-fact. The Internet’s extreme hyperlinking highlights those anti-facts as brightly as the facts. Some anti-facts are silly, some borderline, and some valid. You can’t rely on experts to sort them out because for every expert there is an equal and countervailing anti-expert. Thus anything I learn is subject to erosion by these ubiquitous anti-factors.

My certainty about anything has decreased. Rather than importing authority, I am reduced to creating my own certainty — not just about things I care about — but about anything I touch, including areas about which I can’t possibly have any direct knowledge . That means that in general I assume more and more that what I know is wrong. We might consider this state perfect for science but it also means that I am more likely to have my mind changed for incorrect reasons. Nonetheless, the embrace of uncertainty is one way my thinking has changed.

Uncertainty is a kind of liquidity. I think my thinking has become more liquid. It is less fixed, as text in a book might be, and more fluid, as say text in Wikipedia might be. My opinions shift more. My interests rise and fall more quickly. I am less interested in Truth, with a capital T, and more interested in truths, plural. I feel the subjective has an important role in assembling the objective from many data points. The incremental plodding progress of imperfect science seems the only way to know anything.

While hooked into the network of networks I feel like I am a network myself, trying to achieve reliability from unreliable parts. And in my quest to assemble truths from half-truths, non-truths, and some other truths scattered in the flux (this creation of the known is now our job and not the job of authorities), I find my mind attracted to fluid ways of thinking (scenarios, provisional belief) and fluid media like mashups, twitter, and search. But as I flow through this slippery Web of ideas, it often feels like a waking dream.


The Internet is a cognitive prosthesis, helping our brains to summon facts, but it also makes us more uncertain about the facts we take for granted, because there are challenges to what we know everywhere online.

Folksonomies: culture internet technology society

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factuality:City (0.682436 (neutral:0.000000))

Truth (0.985327): dbpedia | freebase
Cognition (0.834880): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Epistemology (0.785386): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Psychology (0.667618): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Knowledge (0.623044): dbpedia | freebase
Uncertainty (0.593997): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Fact (0.585670): dbpedia | freebase
Belief (0.569830): dbpedia | freebase

 An Intermedia with 2 Billion Screens Peering Into It
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Kelly, Kevin (January, 2010), An Intermedia with 2 Billion Screens Peering Into It, Edge Foundation, Inc., Retrieved on 2010-10-01
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  • Folksonomies: culture internet technology society