A Sherlockian Future

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like an empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has difficulty in laying his hands upon it.” -Sherlock Holmes

It’s an interesting idea, keeping only the information you *need* in your head at any given point in time. How efficient would we be, how situation smart, if we only had to remember the useful things, and we could dump the rest. Like everyone knows, as much as you might like to dump that entire year of Freshman Algebra, sooner or later you’re going to need it (IMHO “solve for X” may have been one of the top ten most useful bits of information I retain from my ill-spent youth).

And now, with a mobile device on every hip and search algorithms that can unbend even the strangest of search parameters, we are at a moment when this is entirely possible. We can stuff our brains with the information we need to have on hand every moment of every day and we can find an expert answer to any new question as long as we have an active internet connection. Yes, at the moment it seems that most people are taking advantage of this to keep the names of the newest pop sensation’s six toy poodles at top of mind, or are using the power of search to look for shirtless pics of the newest teenage boy-band, but keep in mind that we are truly in a transitional phase, as a society. Like microwave ovens and horseless carriages, the rational use scenarios for always on wireless access are still evolving.

With all this specialized information at the tips of our fingers (quite literally, in some cases) are we looking at a next step in the way society views the utilization of information? Will ones measure of education no longer be a reflection of what they can hold in their head, but how quickly they can find, and apply, the correct solution? Within recent memory we have gone from pages of long-form division and multiplication to being able to properly execute these forms on a calculator. Websites and Wikipedia are acceptable sources of reference in many classrooms (I remember the first time I tried to quote an online source **yikes**)

Finding the good information (the “good” sources) is an art unto itself. Being able to act upon that, to actually internalize and put the information to practical use is another skill set entirely. But right now, they are add-ons. They are “stealth” skills that are nice to have, but are not exactly the kind of thing you can put on a resume. It’s like being MacGuyver, you might be able to save the world, but trying to put that skill set on a resume just gets your paper run through the shredder a little bit more quickly than the next guy.

I have the good fortune to know a couple of these people. Their skills are knows, mostly, via anecdotal evidence and word of mouth. It’s their reputation that precedes them, rather than their education that defines them. So think, for the moment, we are looking at something that is hugely valuable in an employee, in a work partner, but it’s still something that is hard to codify. Once we do figure out how to select for it though, then we may be looking at a shift.

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