The Googling Illusion..

We know that the title sounds like that of an episode from the long-running hit comedy “The Big Bang Theory” (and, after all, recent financial history is littered with a few “big bangs” and a lot of theory!), but we are, in fact, referring to one facet of the rising argument that the creation of the Internet and the World Wide Web, while undoubtedly beneficial to humankind as a whole, may well also making us “dumber”; because it is reducing the need to store and process information within the human brain, while at the same time potentially overwhelming the same supposedly diminishing faculties with data “noise”.

As luck would have it, the Awbury Team comprises a spectrum of what we would term the pre-, inter- and post-web generations (and don’t even mention computers…), so we were interested to read about recent research published by a group of academics from Yale University that at least suggests that simply using an internet search engine (Google, for sake of argument, which is already a  verb) to obtain information leads the user to believe that he or she thereby knows more about the topic than is actually the case. Using a series of calibrated experiments, the researchers found that in each scenario, those who had been permitted to use a search engine, even if the topic of the search had nothing to do with subsequent questions posed to them, rated their abilities higher than those of a control group that had not been permitted to use such an internet search. So, somewhat ironically, the act of “Googling” may make you think that you know more and are smarter than you are!

In reality, the world’s economy and the financial services industries could not function at the speed and level at which they now do without the ability to obtain information and research with the speed and breadth now feasible; and we are certainly not advocating a return to a pre-Internet world. History teaches that the Luddites always lose; or that elites can only hold back broader human progress for so long. These are good things.

However, taking  the (very) long view, bear in mind that above the entrance to the Temple at Delphi some two and half thousand  years ago was inscribed the phrase “Know Thyself”; and that in several of his Socratic Dialogues, Plato has Socrates refer approvingly to the thought underlying the phrase; namely, amongst other things, being sufficiently self-aware to realize that the mere knowledge of something does not make one superior.

In reality, it is not the knowledge of something that matters in itself, but how one applies that knowledge; and the ability to discriminate between the material and the trivial. Trivial Pursuit may be an interesting diversion, but it measures memory, not intellectual capacity.

At Awbury, we try to ensure that we maintain a little intellectual humility; while understanding that what really matters is our ability to process, analyze and assess information, so that we can judge properly the risk of a particular transaction or structure, and provide our partners consistently with superior risk adjusted returns.

– The Awbury Team

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