In what ways has technology expanded or limited the acquisition of knowledge?

At the dawn of the 20th-century digital technology slowly began taking over mechanical and analogue technologies. Innovations such as the digital computer, cellular phones, and smartphones have fundamentally altered record-keeping and information access. Information has taken form within digital technology today and age and has nearly dominated every aspect of life. The development of technology is especially true in classroom settings, as technology has irrevocably made the pursuit of learning and the acquisition of knowledge more efficient. The internet and the computer have irreversibly changed learning and education. Technology will only continue to develop to more advanced stages and complete daily tasks more coherently. Technological developments have made information highly accessible and convenient, expanding an individual’s ability to acquire knowledge. This essay will examine how the shifting locus of knowledge, accelerating speed of dissemination, and the increasing importance as a platform for collaboration has allowed the knower to acquire knowledge in ways never done before.

The internet provides a focal point where information can be accessed conveniently, making the acquisition of knowledge more efficient. The internet is a vast network where data and information is being exchanged digitally through computers. Ever since the 1990s, there has been a rise in internet usage. In 1995, just around 14% of the US adult population used the internet, whereas, in 2014, 86% used the internet (See Fig. 1.).

The figure displayed demonstrates a rapid shift and a steady rise in where knowledge and information are obtained. Before the internet, the conventional way of acquiring knowledge was through libraries, where books and encyclopedias were the primary sources of knowledge [2]. Oftentimes, finding books created a tiresome and laborious task. Thus, the internet resolved this issue by centralising expertise and information within one area. With the internet being a central area for knowledge, more information can be stored, gaining traction and providing more resources for individuals to obtain. Furthermore, the shift of an online hub of information makes accessing knowledge more convenient and saves time. The internet has, without a doubt, saved time and effort in finding relevant information. The theory of time-space convergence can be the best way to explain the phenomenon of efficiency that is occurring today. Space-time convergence is the visual erosion and exchange in time perception due to the improvements and innovations in transportation, communication, and information technology [3]. Therefore, as technology improves, the time in which data and information can be transferred will reduce significantly (See Fig. 2.). With the help of space-time convergence, it demonstrates that the improvements in technology will create convenience and shift the locus of where knowledge is acquired to a more digital-focused area.

Figure 2. A diagram of the space-time convergence theory [4].

Besides the convenience that the internet has created for humanity, the development of the search engine allows for an efficient method in disseminating information, promoting the acquisition of knowledge. Ever Since the invention of the internet, there has been an influx of data that can be found digitally. With all this information, it can be challenging for individuals to find relevant sources. Thus, search engines as brokers scour the internet for the relevant information needed for an individual. An example of a search engine that does this is Google. Founded in 1998, Google has changed learning and the acquisition of knowledge. Google, like other search engines, employ unique algorithms and automated programmes to determine its search results. What differentiates Google from other search engines is its unique way of ranking search results. Coined as PageRank, it assigns each web page or information with a score determining the results’ relevance when searched [5]. By creating an index and ranking relevant information, Google succeeds in providing a streamlined search result that looks over its database of information. Daily, google processes about 20 petabytes of data from the endless searches that are being conducted [6]. Therefore, this allows the algorithm to utilise the data and deliver its search results to the individual. This computer-generated formula allows for a fast and efficient way to provide relevant information to any individual seeking knowledge and actualities. The development of intelligent data calculations and algorithms fundamentally changes societies modes in the acquisition of knowledge.

Furthermore, services by search engines have improved the quality of life and provided a new way to educate individuals. The video shown below is a documentary Google made explaining the science and benefits of Google technology. From 2:05 to 2:55, it lists an array of scenarios where Google would be helpful in everyday life. From translating texts to searching up a recipe, the clip demonstrates the versatility that Google can offer as a service. The video shows its effectiveness to assist individuals in gaining new insights and knowledge through its algorithm and technology. Google attempts to promote its services as a centralised way to gather and acquire knowledge, thus, fundamentally altering individuals’ habits and practices of experiencing the world. With its services being central, it also increases the speed at which information can be disseminated, making it far more accessible and efficient for individuals to search and gather information.

Google’s documentary “Trillions of Questions, No Easy Answers” [7].

Technology has made learning much more interactive, collaborative, and convenient, stimulating individuals’ pursuit to learn. With various services and platforms that promote online learning, technology has allowed endless possibilities for educators and learners to interact with digital devices. Services such as Google Classroom and Blackboard have created an organised learning method and provides various settings and modes to enhance a more online collaborative aspect to their benefit. All these tools and services make education and knowledge acquisition more interactive and convenient between learners and educators. Moreover, online conferencing services such as Zoom have redefined conventional learning. The versatility of these services makes it very convenient for learners to adapt to unextraordinary times. The COVID-19 pandemic has left an inescapable toll on education, as many countries announced suspensions in in-person classes. However, with the help of a conferencing service, Zoom, nearly 90,000 schools globally were able to host online classes and lessons. The service allows for real-time discussion that provides students with a more collaborative and cooperative learning experience. Its company valuation exceeded $100 billion during the pandemic (See Fig. 3.), which suggests its growing popularity and importance in contemporary education. The implementation of online technologies and services allowed for a minimal effect on the disruption of knowledge acquired and showed the ever-increasing interest in online platforms as an educational tool.

Figure 3. Zoom’s Overall Increase in Market Value up until the First Quarter of 2021 [8]

Although technology provides us with many benefits, the excess of information can inhibit the knower’s ability to acquire knowledge at an in-depth level and may even lead to lower cognitive abilities. In 2008 a group of scholars from the University of London looked at computer logs that recorded human behaviour on web searching within two public institutions, the British Library and the U.K. educational consortium. Researchers found that people using digital libraries developed a form of “skimming activity” to view the beginning of an academic site and never return to it [7]. The research demonstrates a superficial aspect of acquiring knowledge. Due to the vast amount of information presented on the internet, individuals may have trouble reading and finding relevant or reliable knowledge. It also may indicate that the knower’s attention span is depleting due to the sheer amount of information being provided on the internet. This is the same case with search engines. Any knower can search for a quick answer by typing it in the search bar in a matter of seconds. Although it gives them an answer, there may not be any value or developed understanding, as the knower may not know the full context. Although this may be an efficient way of finding a solution quickly, it lacks insight and knowledge and makes it superficial.

Technology has brought unprecedented changes in modern society by fundamentally reshaping the acquisition of knowledge. The development of the internet has allowed the allocation of knowledge to be in a centralised area, making learning and knowledge acquisition more convenient and efficient. Search engines such as Google have made it easier to find information within the realm of the internet, benefiting and enhancing daily livelihoods. On the other hand, the abundant amount of information stored on the internet has brought forth negative implications for an individuals pursuit of knowledge. It has led to shorter attention spans by skimming rather than reading, and more of a shallow understanding of various aspects, therefore, limiting knowledge being obtained. Technology is a tool that can enhance and create endless possibilities in humanity. It is up to the knower to have the responsibility to utilise technology for their benefit and inquiries.

Endnotes

  1. Felix Richer, “The Rapid Rise of the Internet,” Statista, last modified May 14, 2014, accessed July 2, 2021, https://www.statista.com/chart/2007/internet-adoption-in-the-us/.
  2. “How did the internet change the way we learn?,” Broad and Search, accessed July 2, 2021, https://www.broadbandsearch.net/blog/how-internet-changed-learning-education.
  3. Richard D. Knowles, “Transport Shaping Space: Differential Collapse in Time-space,” Journal of Transport Geography 14, no. 6 (November 2006): 2, accessed July 2, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2006.07.001.
  4. “Changing space-the shrinking world,” The Geography Study School (blog), accessed July 2, 2021, https://igcsegeography.wordpress.com/ib-geography-hl/time-space-convergence/.
  5. Jonathan Strickland and John Donovan, “How Google Works,” How Stuff Works, last modified May 30, 2019, accessed July 2, 2021, https://computer.howstuffworks.com/internet/basics/google1.htm.
  6. “The Positive Impact of Google,” Enki Tech (blog), accessed July 2, 2021, https://enki.tech/the-positive-impact-of-google/.
  7. “Trillions of Questions, No Easy Answers: A (home) movie about how Google Search works,” video, 58:10, Youtube, posted by Google, October 17, 2020, accessed July 2, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFq6Q_muwG0&t=129s&ab_channel=Google.
  8. Mansoor Iqbal, “Zoom Revenue and Usage Statistics (2021),” Business of Apps, last modified May 24, 2021, accessed July 2, 2021, https://www.businessofapps.com/data/zoom-statistics/.
  9. Ian Rowlands et al., “The Google Generation: The Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future,” Aslib Proceedings 60, no. 4 (July 6, 2008): 4, https://doi.org/10.1108/00012530810887953.