Perhaps the reason is because internet information is so easily obtained. It is not something you really have to search for, you simply retrieve it. “Search engine” is a misnomer; “retrieval engine” would be more accurate.
Imagine you have misplaced your watch and, instead of having to search for it, all you have to do is type “my watch” into a device. A diagram of a room in your home appears on a screen with a pulsating arrow pointing to the watch’s location.
(Of course! – slapping my forehead – how could I be so backward? I’m sure that all most people need to do these days to find a mislaid watch is tap the screens of their phones a few times. Some people might even be able to find their mislaid phones by pressing a button on their watches.)
Anyway, wouldn’t you agree that someone who can retrieve the location of their misplaced watch by pressing a button or typing on their phone – compared with someone who must spend time, thought and physical energy searching for it – will be more prone to continue misplacing things? Things like watches, and apostrophes. (That’s only a hypothesis, not based on information, much less knowledge; just speculation.)
Or perhaps the reason that the information we retrieve from the internet does not add to our knowledge is that we do not completely trust it. Aware of the all-inclusiveness of the internet, we do not judge its information as true or false, as we do information from other sources, we only decide – based on its relationship to neighboring information on our screen – whether or not it is information that most other people judge is true.
What I think (beyond speculation, approaching belief, but still far from knowledge) is that the reason internet information does not, as a rule, enrich our knowledge is that we do not bother to remember it. Why should we? It still will be there if we want to retrieve it again. It is being remembered for us.
Don’t ask me what I mean, exactly, by “knowledge.” “Knowledge” is one of those concepts, like “love” or “education,” that need an essay, or a book, to define it, and even then only certain aspects of it will be covered, and from a particular point of view. But there can be no argument about this: Knowledge, no matter how it is defined, no matter what else it entails, is assembled from remembered information. (The complex question of how broadly one should define information and how liberal one should be in accepting the sources of that information, is what makes an adequate definition of “knowledge” impossible.)
The word “knowledge” has a weighty connotation, but what I mean by it can be something more, and at the same time, something less, than thoughts that are insightful, profound or even, ultimately, correct.
You are at a party. You see someone across the room whom you know you have met somewhere, but you cannot remember their name, or where you met them. Their name, and where you met them, is information. The fact that you have met them before is knowledge. When you see someone across the room and remember enough information about them – such things, for example, as their name, their occupation, their birthplace, their political leanings, their favorite restaurant, the fact that they believe themselves unhappy in love, etc. – you then can say that you know them.
Here is an amusing and stunning example of the idiocy that can occur when knowledge is replaced by information. (My friend, Claude, alerted me to this incident.)
On September 7th, France played Albania in a soccer match at French National Stadium. Before the match, the national anthem of Andorra, instead of Albania, was cued up and broadcast in error. Afterwards, aware that a mistake had been made, the stadium announcer apologized, but he apologized to the fans from Armenia (“supporters de l’Arménie”).
If you simply are scrolling up and down your i‑Tunes anthem list through countries beginning with “A” (that much you know), it is understandable, even forgivable, if you get confused. You eliminate Austria, Australia, Argentina and Afghanistan, which you know enough about to distinguish from one another, but the others are just names, just orthographically similar proper nouns.
(Not so forgivable is forgetting, or not knowing, what team was playing France and at that moment was on the field, standing to attention. I suspect that Max of Fun Radio – the dj who was gigging as stadium announcer that day – was too stoned to remember anything. And yes, I know I’m stereotyping – stereotyping dj’s.)
In the lost days of the old world (that is, before the internet) it is likely that the stadium announcer – even if he were someone called Max of Fun Radio and was stoned out of his head – would have known, or at least “sort of known,” that Albania was one of those Communist bloc countries that now was full of gangsters, that Andorra was a tiny place between France and Spain where you could buy duty-free cameras and coffee machines, and that the Armenians had once been massacred en masse by the Turks, the ones lucky enough to escape having made their way to Paris and opened restaurants. The pre-internet announcer would have remembered enough information or quasi-information for him to know the difference between Albania, Andorra and Armenia.