12 May 2017

Don't let Google help you get dumber

I wrote a paper [pdf] about 10 years ago that discussed the "negative, second-order effect" of using Google to find anything from music tracks to teaching presentations. My observation is that Google's ease of use (a good thing, i.e., "a positive, first-order effect") makes it easier for us to be lazy in terms of researching, mastering ideas or working to present them.

I see many signs of this effect around me, i.e., when spell-checkers fix our typing, translators give us some but not all of the meaning, or when students cite others' ideas based on a googled snippet, rather than the memory from reading broadly or for comprehension (the ctrl+F problem). These stages are merely the most recent in an evolution that began thousands of years ago, when homo sapiens were able to share collective knowledge to overcome the larger-brained (smarter) homo neanderthalensis, which had weaker social organization.

Russ Roberts and Tyler Cowen discuss these ideas -- among others -- in this podcast on Cowen's book, The Complacent Class (start around 40 minutes in). I recommend that you listen to the podcast if you want to think differently about how you might retain some knowledge in a world where bots and automation are increasingly dominant.

Bottom Line: It's nice to benefit from "collective knowledge" but be careful when that knowledge is controlled by corporations.

1 comment:

Michael said...

On the good (?) side, many people, including professors, PhD students and other well-educated people do not seem to be able to find much with Google. I receive so many requests for papers, other literature et cetera, and mostly use Google to find it for them. What is easier than pasting the title of the paper or subject you are looking for into Google (and find it on page 1)? People do not seem to be able to do that. (Eight requests today, all found with Google.)
This is even worse at for example hotel receptions where (1) they have no clue about the neighbourhood and (2) are not able to find a timetable or website with information. I have seen this so many times, and wonder how these people think.
Also, they look on their phones to find places, or where get off the bus, but miss the busstop and still cannot find the pub that is literally around the corner. They show me a map on their phone, point at a dot: "we are here". I know where I am. I do not need that map. "We need to go here", they say. So, what else do they need? They know where they are, they have a map and they know where to have to be. They cannot connect the two.
Interpretation, thinking and connecting information to the real world seems to be impossible for them.
Does Google make them dumber? Or is it another thing?

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