"Is humanity in the midst of a cognitive 'Fourth-Transition?' Or, why doesn't the Encyclopedia Brittanica matter any more?"

It feels to me like something very important is going on. Clearly our children aren't quite like us. They don't learn about the world as we did. They don't storehouse knowledge about the world as we have. They don't "sense" the world as we do. Could humanity possibly already be in the middle of a next stage of cognitive transition?

Merlin Donald has done a fine job of summarizing hundreds of inquiries into the evolution of culture and cognition in his Origins of the Modern Mind. Here, as in his other work, he posits a series of "layered" morphological, neurological and external technological stages in this evolutionary path. What he refers to as the "Third Transition" (from "Mythic" to "Theoretic" culture), appears to have begun 2500 (or so) years ago and has now largely completed its march to "mental" dominance worldwide.

While this last "transition" did not require biological adaptation (or speciation), it nonetheless changed us — neurologically and psycho-culturally. The shift from the "primary orality" of "Mythic culture" to the literacy and the reliance of what Donald calls an "External Symbolic Storage" network, has resulted in a new sort of mind. The "modern" mind.

Could we be "evolving" towards an even newer sort of mind as a result of our increasing dependence on newer sorts of symbolic networks and newer environments of technologies?

Literacy (while still taught and used) doesn't have anywhere near the clout it once had. Indeed, as fanatical "literalism" (aka "fundamentalism") thrashes its way to any early grave (along with the decline of the reciprocal fascination of the past 50 years to "deconstruct" everything as "texts"), how much will humanity care about and rely upon the encyclopedic storage of knowledge in alphabetic warehouses?

Perhaps we are already "learning," "knowing" and "sensing" the world in ways that presage something very different from the "modern" mind. Should we ask the children?

Mark Stahlman, a venture capitalist who has been focused on next generation computer/networking platforms, is co-founder the Newmedia Laboratory, NYNMA.