Technology is an enabler, not a substitute

We all pay the price for lost wisdom

Since its inception, Google’s mission has been to organize all of the world’s information. In 2005, a reporter asked Eric Schmidt, then CEO of Google, “How long do you think it would take to organize all the information in the world?”

“Three hundred years,” Eric Schmidt said to the reporter. It wasn’t a riff on the reporter who popped the question. Eric Schmidt has a BS in Engineering from Princeton and a PhD. from Berkeley. He knew what he was talking about. Google engineers had already calculated the answer to this question.

What you have to think about is, if it takes 300 years to digitize all the information in the world, can you imagine what it would take to capture the wisdom in people’s hearts? Technology helps us preserve information. The connection between generations helps us retain wisdom. Both are necessary.

Technology helps us preserve information. The connection between generations helps us retain wisdom. Both are necessary.

Here’s a situation that most parents can relate to. It’s late at night and your baby starts crying non-stop. You call your pediatrician, but it’s the end of the day and the nurse on call takes a message. Meanwhile, try patting the baby. You carry them around, turn off the lights, play music and when nothing works you try to drive them around in the car. But the moment you put her in the car seat, she starts screaming even louder. Meanwhile, the parents are about to have a panic attack.

You are on video call with the grandmother, your mother, and she hears the baby in the background. She tells you to take some lukewarm olive oil and massage the baby’s stomach and back. Laying baby on their back while you massage them will calm them down and slip them into a deep sleep within minutes. After the crisis is over, the parents start breathing again and the grandmother also says goodbye.

On your bookshelf you may have the books of Spock and Farber, but what you need at times like this is the wisdom that comes from experience. Grandmother knows what to do because she learned it from her mother, who learned it from her mother. Maybe the warmth helped the baby. Maybe the oils did something. Perhaps it is the years of experience that has calmed the baby down. Who knows what the reason is, but what grandmother advised worked.

We have all had similar experiences where home remedies have saved us from having to go to the pharmacy. When we bring wisdom and technology together, our families benefit from the best of the past and present. And what happens if we don’t care about wisdom? What happens when a society loses wisdom en masse? I’m not talking about the loss of grandmother’s home remedies, but the loss of medical science itself. Can you imagine the chaos in a world without doctors? It may seem like a doomsday scenario, but history shows us that such black swan events did take place.

(Extracted with permission from “The Wisdom Bridge” by Kamlesh D. Patel, Rs 399, published by Penguin Random House India)

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