Knowledge stores versus knowledge acquisition

Sometimes, people come and ask me questions. Often, I suggest that we consult Google. Occasionally, they give me a quizzical look. It’s a look that says “but don’t you know the answer off the top of your head?”

In darker moments, I sometimes feel that this is one of those old science versus new science situations. Every department has an old bloke (it’s always a bloke) who has some vast, encyclopaedic knowledge of a subject. Usually chemistry for some reason. “He knows a lot about chemistry”, you hear people say in awed, respectful tones.

Well these days, there’s just too much information for that kind of approach. What’s worthy of respect, IMHO, is the ability to rapidly locate, filter and acquire information, rather than the ability to remember lots of it. This is a skill and should be treated as such. So when they say “but don’t you know?”, smile and say “no, but I know where to find out”.