Google is an Internet search engine used to gather information and links on a particular topic. Various questions have been raised about whether or not it is making people dumb. This research was able to show that Google can make people stupid in the sense that it makes them less dangerous, less capable of focusing, and less capable of achieving in-depth reading due to internet diversion. It also decreases memory loss because they think they can quickly ‘Search’ anything or access certain information over the internet. Others argue, however, that Google does not make people stupid. Instead, it makes people reach another more profound level of learning, one where they can still apply their analytical and critical abilities, and in the process, retain and improve their intellectual abilities. A middle ground to this issue can be reached by retaining the best of both worlds, allowing the technology to develop, and retaining the in-depth reading and analytical processes while completing and maintaining intellectual learning.
The internet has become one of the most popular innovations used and appreciated by virtually everyone on the planet. It is also a medium on which various technologies are borne and developed, including search engines and social networking sites. Another such technique is Google. It is a search engine set up to browse the internet and find information and links to the various interactions available in the electronic world. The ease with which information was made possible through Google was a source of controversy among researchers and intellectuals, arguing it’s a technology that has now made people stupid. However, other scholars would also say in the opposite direction, arguing that Google is not making people dumb; instead, it is making them smarter and more creative in their understanding of and of the universe. This report will address whether or not Google is making people dumb. Firstly, this paper provides a short overview of Google. Second, it will present an analysis of the reasons why Google is making us stupid. Third, we shall also review the reasons why Google is not making us crazy. Third, an overview of previous debates and claims will justify a stance on this topic. Eventually, the review will conclude with a conclusion and summary.
A Brief History of Google
Stanford University graduate students Larry Page and Sergey Brin set up their search engine known as ‘BackRub’ in 1996. This search engine used various links to determine the importance of separate web pages (Google, n.d). In 1998, their research was eventually formalized into what will now be known as Google. This company has since grown significantly. It is now available in different languages; it has various advertisements and web applications, including Google Books, Google Scholar, Google Maps, Google Images, and Google Mail. It is primarily a search engine that compiles the links from different web places for easy access and availability.
Google is Making us Stupid: Nicholas Carr Discussion
In Nicholas Carr’s (2008) study in his article “Is Google making us stupid?” he narrates how the initiative of deep and concentrated reading has lost somehow become a less frequent occurrence for him. Intense and long hours of reading have become interrupted by other distractions, and long lines of prose seem to inspire boredom or mental wanderings (Carr, 2008). He attributes this phenomenon to the fact that he has spent a lot of time searching online and surfing through the internet superhighway for many years now since the birth of the internet. He posits that being a writer, the internet has become a rich source of data and information. He could accomplish so much more in a few minutes in terms of research, as opposed to pouring over books and journals in the library for long hours, even days. Simple and specific data can be reviewed within a few minutes and utilized without reading an entire book or article (Carr, 2008). In researching and writing, he could distract himself from what is on the internet, surfing through more data, watching videos, writing blogs, and updating one’s Facebook status. Carr (2008) admits that the internet has become a venue for him to gain as much information as possible and immediately access such data without losing much time and without making much effort.
However, he also admits that such easy access and wealth of data has its price. He cited Marshall McLuhan, who discusses how the media has become a passive source of information, as it supplies data for thought and shapes the process of thinking (Carr, 2008). In effect, the internet has damaged people’s capacity for concentration and contemplation, as the mind seems to now seem to expect to gain data in the same way as the internet also distributes it: via “the swiftly moving particle stream” (Carr, 2008). Now the information process is likened to skipping on the surface on a Jet Ski. Carr’s discussion points out how the internet or Google has made the learning process less intellectual and insubstantial. Various intellectuals seem to have a similar complaint – that of the fact that they have less concentration and more difficulties in focusing on long pieces of writing, the more that they use the internet.
Individuals who used to be good readers most of their lives admittedly reduced their reading frequency because of the internet (Carr, 2008). Some readers also declare that their mental habits have changed, and they are often unable to absorb and comprehend long articles on the internet and print.
Their thought processes seem to have taken on a ‘staccato’ quality wherein the way they read information is akin to how they gather or read news online – skimming through information and short passages (Carr, 2008). A review of students at the University of London College also revealed that students often remove through their sources, surfing from one source to another and not correctly using any one particular source through to the end.
These students just read through one or two pages of a source or article and then move on to another site. They save the longer pieces, but it is unclear if they return to these articles to read them (Carr, 2008). They power browse titles, abstracts, tables of contents as convenient and easy means to ‘read’ the text or book. Experts claim that the style of reading being promoted on the internet is a style that seems to place a primer on immediacy, not so much on immediacy, and this style also weakens the function of deep reading dominant in earlier forms of technology (Wolf, 2007). Wolf (2007) also mentions that reading online seems to make people decoders of data, and people’s ability to interpret data is not sufficiently engaged. As a result, the more analytical process required in reading is lost, making a person’s intellectual skills less developed and less involved.
Due to the significant amount of information now available on the web, there seems to be less motivation among individuals to recall such data, knowing that they can easily access or ‘recall’ such information simply “Googling’ it (Worthen, 2008). Worthen (2008) discusses that the increasing significance of the ability to gain knowledge online instead of obtaining information from memory would cause a shift in companies’ employee quality requirements. In effect, companies would likely hire people for their computer and internet searching skills, not so much on their ability to synthesize, understand, and critically assess information (Worthen, 2008).
Sooner or later, the person who can retain the information the longest or the one who has the sharpest memory and smartest critical skills would not anymore have as much value as the one who could search the internet the fastest. Internet technology is available on most people’s phones is not also helping people to retain essential information or to challenge their intellect in the most critical ways. Recalling directions or phone numbers is even more accessible on these gadgets; thus, the issue of memory retention remains a significant problem in the use of the internet and the Google search engine (Worthen, 2008). In a 2011 study by Sparrow et al., relying on our computers and data from the internet for memory on intellectual processes is based on the same transactive memory processes which support social information sharing.
Their study revealed that people transact information easily since they also think about computers when they need some info (Sparrow et al., 2011). The social means of storing data is also based on the findings that people tend to forget things that will eventually be available to them, and end up trying harder on data they think will no longer be available to them (Sparrow et al., 2011). The experiment also revealed that participants were deficient in memory recall on both statements and folder, and on recalling the report, not the folder. The participants were also more likely to recall nothing but may recall the folder when unfamiliar with the statement. In effect, the participants were not expected to remember where when they knew what, but they did recall where to find the data (Sparrow et al., 2011). These respondents also did remember where to find it when they were able to recall the data.
These results indicate that when individuals require data to remain readily available, they are also more predisposed to recall where to find it, not so much on remembering the details of the item they needed to see (Sparrow et al., 2011). Essentially, therefore, people’s ability to retain information about a particular matter is more predisposed to be forgotten with the currently available computer and internet technologies.
Google and the Brain
Google/technology’s impact on the brain Google and the internet’s search engines and databases have such a wealth of data stored there that it also has become an external memory source that can be accessed anytime. This has changed how the brain has worked in so many ways. People seem to have developed transactive memories composed of information stored by individuals and the memory stores they can gain access to (Sparrow et al., 2011). However, this process has negatively impacted memory retention and recall, diminishing the thinking process into a less significant aspect of learning.
Harvard students who were included in a study reviewing memory recall were asked to type various trivia pieces into the computers and were also informed that the data would either be removed or saved (International Business Times, 2011). The study revealed that respondents who thought that the data would be protected were less likely to remember such data. In effect, in facing difficult situations, people are ready to think about the internet, and when they think of the internet, they store the information at less likelihood (IB Times, 2011). The study also established that individuals often go to the internet to gain knowledge or recall something. When respondents were queried about flags and the number of colors in such flags, they were also less likely to think about banners, but immediately thought about going to the internet to gain such information (IB Times, 2011).
Sparrow (2011) also emphasized that “our brains rely on the internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker…We remember less by knowing information itself than by knowing where it is possible to find information.
The Academic Impact of Google
It’s possible to find anything off the internet by merely Googling something. The internet and the search engine rarely disappoint when they provide much-needed information. It seems to be a very beneficial scenario for a student because they can access everything from books to magazines, book reviews, and practical information on ‘how to’ projects in home economics. But the internet is also open to all other media types, including comics, videos, games, music, and additional information that often distracts these students from their academic work. The use of the internet and its search engines pose a significant dilemma among educators. Some think the internet is a real source of information (LeBeau, 2011). Students can access relevant research from Internet websites; they can get their course syllabus from there, preceding studies on which they can base their research, including schedules of quizzes, assignments, and exams. These are online teaching aids that are useful for many colleges and are convenient. Online registrations have also been made available among universities, and this enrolment style has gained much growth throughout the years. More importantly, online courses have also been made available for students. These classes often do not require attendance, helping students save on rent, transportation, time, and food expenses (LeBeau, 2011). These students can also carry out their courses on their own time without dealing with full classrooms, scheduling conflicts, or even traffic.
The interactive process between the students and the teachers can still be maintained online, especially with available internet technologies like video chatting and video conferencing.
Whether this mode of learning is useful in terms of knowledge retained and information gained remains an unsettled question. As this learning mode is new, the information on efficacy is not very rich or available for this current study. Nevertheless, the traditional classroom setting is still the best way to learn (LeBeau, 2011). Moreover, learners are mostly different from each other. Whereas some of them would thrive in the online setting, using search engines as much as possible to supplement their knowledge, other learners may prefer and learn more in the actual classroom interactive process. In these instances, the learners are more engaged in an interactive learning environment, not in the enclosed online setting.
Google and Deep Reading
In-depth reading is a difficult task to accomplish in the online setting. This much was already raised previously in discussions by Carr and other intellectuals. The emphasis of Googling something and learning some new information online is primarily based on a massive amount of data and multitasking and interactive modes of communication. However, for slow learners, this process can be more time consuming and be counterproductive. Instead, the actual learning process can only be gained through in-depth reading. In-depth reading involves a wide range of sophisticated methods that promote comprehension, and it also includes inferential and deductive reasoning and critical analysis, reflection, and insight (Wolf and Barzillai, 2009). An expert reader would process such information quickly, and it takes years for a brain ever to reach this stage of expertise. However, this development process is put in danger by the current digital culture, which is based on immediacy, not efficiency, and one which often does not permit the event or the support of deliberative learning (Wolf and Barzillai, 2009). This dilemma presents a challenge for the present and future generations, one which is likely to impact their ability to analyze and contemplate. The current internet and Googling generation are also vulnerable to skewed processes of reading and acquiring data.
The man was not born with an innate ability to read; most people also understood this much (Wolf, 2007). The man was born with other skills, including the ability to speak, to move, and to think.
This is not the same with reading because it is a cognitive act which is part of an evolutionary process. In understanding how the reading process works, it is possible to comprehend the flexibility of the brain. As a result, the mind’s flexibility allows the formation of new connections among the different structures that support vision, hearing, and cognition (Wolf and Barzillai, 2009). If the brain then has no fixed circuitry, then the different circuitries for languages and writing learning systems would not look the same. A significant amount of cross-imaging demonstrates various adjustments in the process of reading. Therefore, a Chinese reader’s brain would require the activation of visual areas in the occipital region for the reader to develop the adequate processing of a significant amount of Chinese letters and characters (Wolf and Barzillai, 2009).
However, the English or American English Alphabet system would require development along with the temporal and parietal areas to accommodate the alphabet’s emphasis on sounds and the rules that match visual symbols (Wolf, 2007). For young learners, there is a need to activate their brains to reach the development level that adults eventually reach. This is a significant dilemma in the current internet age because skimming through the internet seems to be the norm, and no in-depth reading is engaged and developed. With digital text, the ability to be creative and to discover is significant (Wolf and Barzillai, 2009). However, the internet also presents an uncensored and unedited information source that contains anything available and capable of distracting one’s attention.
In effect, being a sincere reader is a delicate state to reach for these online learners and readers. In the process, it is a state which may sometimes never be achieved for the slow learners.
Google Does not Make us Stupid
Varian (2010) was quick to respond to Carr’s arguments, arguing that based on various studies and points of contention by different intellectuals, Google does not make man stupid. Instead, it makes man smarter. He cites Cascio, who declares that man has to get brighter for man to survive in the current technological world. The process of a man getting smarter is already happening. A process is very much apparent on the internet in the tools of simulation and visualization, which are also bringing new life to various innovative scientific disciplines (in Varian, 2010). The pervasive use of technology and media may also pose a challenge to the capacity of man to concentrate; however, there are signs of dynamic intelligence growth or the ability to make meaning in the midst of uncertainty and problem solving (Varian, 2010). Moreover, the intellectuals and the technically perceptive individuals will find ways to assist those who have trouble engaging in new and internet-based technologies.
In a survey of internet users, respondents were asked to evaluate the truth to two statements involving internet and Google use, and a good majority (76%) of the respondents replied that ‘Human intelligence has been enhanced by the use of the Internet by 2020; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information they become smarter and make better choices’ (Varian, 2010). Other authors and intellectuals, since they do point out the negative effect of Google on man’s intellectual prowess, admit that the internet’s impact on individuals’ mental lives cannot always be evaluated by IQ scores (Carr, 2008). However, the internet is useful in shifting the emphasis on people’s intelligence a bit further away from meditative or contemplative information and more towards utilitarian and even practical intelligence. In the end, practical knowledge may be more useful for man in the face of the wealth of information readily available to him (Carr, 2008).
Norvig (in O’Kelly and Lyon, 2011) also discusses that the best way to read books is through deep and concentrated reading; however, with the unlimited access to various materials, books, articles, journals, and blogs, skimming is a good first strategy.
Skimming through these materials allows us to overview the elements, and then a more in-depth reading may follow.
Both need to coexist to take full advantage of the materials available. Varian (2010) also discusses that Google helps people become more informed, giving people anywhere in the world the opportunity to access information.
Providing such universal access helps people develop their potential and equalize the opportunity for knowledge (Varian, 2010). It can also shift cognitive capacities, not having to remember as much, but still requiring individuals to think harder, to be more critical, and to be more analytical about the wealth of information available. Less time is given to memorization. Therefore, it gives the people a chance to devote themselves to other new skills and even to master these for proper application (Varian, 2010).
In some ways, Google can also make people stupid and smart at the same time (Bullying in Anderson and Rainie, 2010). The future will likely spell a world where 3D technology is pervasive, and digital media will encompass our lives. We would probably be faced with intelligent machines where simple and complex activities would be assigned in this world. We would likely lose useful skills to us; however, we would also gain skills to make better choices. The gains would be more significant than the losses (Bullying in Anderson and Rainie, 2010).
Moreover, some activities and tasked would also be divested in favor of Google and other internet services, and the minor tasks would not be carried out in our minds anymore. However, such a role has been offloaded on to paper for many years now (Bubley in Anderson and Rainie, 2010).
On the other hand, the internet, including its search engine technologies, would be providing improvements in neuroscience and cognitive research. Google would also help support parts of human intelligence, including analysis, which would sometimes replace other parts of memory (Maistrellis, 2010). Therefore, individuals would be more informed about other technicalities because Google would remember these facts on their behalf. This is a favorable process as this is what we all have come to desire since the days when arithmetic skills, abacuses, and calculators have been developed to make the computational methods easier (Maistrellis, 2010). Therefore, there is something ironic in denying the current levels that technology has reached because of its possible and perceived dangers.
It is also not favorable to consider intelligence as something undifferentiated (Anderson and Rainie, 2010). There is no doubt that as we would evolve as people, we would also be worse at some others, or more stupid at some things. However, with better capacity, we may also be capable of advanced integration and evaluation (Gupta, 2011). The current learning system, the more informal learning processes, will eventually become the norm because technology needs to be learned to gain faster ways to become economically productive (Gupta, 2011).
The above discussion presents two sides to a debate. On the one hand, there is a belief that Google makes us stupid. Those who argue that Google makes us foolish claim that eliminating in-depth reading has caused people to be less critical and less intellectual about what they read and process into their brains. The fact that they can simply avoid the process of reading an entire book to gain the knowledge that they need causes them to be less intellectual, and in some ways, more ‘stupid.’ It also prevents individuals from being critical about what they read, allowing what the internet gives them to make up the entire bulk of their learning process. On the other hand, Google does not make people stupid. Instead, it provides individuals another aspect of learning, which can still prove challenging. Such a challenge in the learning activity would prevent them from becoming stupid; instead, it would make them smarter and respond to the changes in the intellectual sphere of learning. There is a middle ground, and a compromise that can be reached in the current learning process and such middle ground is based on the fact that it is possible to still maintain the sincere reading attitude amid the skimming habit seen in the current internet-savvy world. The process of adjustment is, however, necessary to reach such a middle ground.
In actuality, adjustments are essential to maintain people’s intellectual prowess in the face of the current internet technologies and the Google search engine. These adjustments would help keep people’s mental abilities, even propelling such skills to different levels of learning. All in all, however, it is logical to consider that Google does not make people stupid.
Based on the above discussion, it is best to consider that Google is not making people stupid. Although it is indeed reducing people’s capacity for intellectual and analytical thought, as well as memory retention, it is also a technology that is challenging individuals into the next mental plane of learning development. The internet is one of the most pervasive technologies now available. It will also likely be here to stay. It will also continue to evolve, and man will continue to adapt to its users and processes. Based on such considerations, man’s brain and intellectual processes would also likely develop and adjust. As such, it would adapt to the current methods available in the learning and development process. A person would probably change to the technologies, learning more things, and absorbing them into his intellectual means. The new knowledge he would gain would not make him stupid, but it would give him a different understanding, a different kind of learning and intelligence. The in-depth reading and mental process used to form part of the reading process would not be the same. However, other challenges of education, including the critical analysis of the wealth of information available, would form a significant bulk of the learning process. This would prevent people from becoming stupid because intellectual methods are still there, only in different forms and different applications. And man would adjust, learn new things, and this continuous learning would prevent the brain and cognitive process from being diminished.
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