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Is Google Search Making Us Dumber?



Google's search engine algorithms are getting smarter. Great, right? What if the trade-off is that we're getting dumber? Ian Leslie has an article up on Salon.com that asks this question and whether or not Google search is harmless. Is it beneficial to find immediate answers by Google search on our smartphone/tablet/computer? Not if we're getting too lazy to ask the right questions.

"Who is Miley Cyrus dating?", "How high is Mount Kilimanjaro," "Who is the original singer of 'Careless Whisper'?" Any question that pops into our head when we're waiting for the bus or sitting at a dinner table with friends can be instantly answered by the mini-computer in our pocket. Type your question into the awaiting rectangle search bar and click the search button to have your answer magically zapped to you (if you're connected to fast internet, that is).

So why is that bad? Leslie and others point out that with answers so readily available, our ability to ask questions is being diminished. Leslie says, "The gap between question and answer is where creativity thrives and scientific progress is made."

The internet is overflowing with information. Answers are more readily available than any generation before us. More often than not, research papers and homework do not include trekking over to the library and going through a database in search of information. Microfilm machines are dusty antiquities that no one would dream of using, let alone know how it works. "Writing" a paper involves googling whatever our topic keyword is, be it, "Virginia Woolf" or "apparent magnitude," then stringing together our spin on answers and conclusions others have already come to.

I am for sure guilty of this. As an exhausted student, being able to google an essay topic seemed the natural order of my studies. What, am I going to walk over to the library? When the answers are here on the laptop in my warm dorm room? Why? But this is precisely the attitude I needed to break myself from.

What a harsh lesson it was to receive lackluster grades for papers I thought were A's. When I asked one of my teachers why I had received a lousy grade for a paper I thought was pretty good, he answered, "You may not have plagiarized word-for-word, but it's obvious these ideas aren't your own." Ouch. It took me a couple weeks to realize his point. I was rehashing the same conclusions and theories that countless other peers were also turning in, since we were all probably clicking the same top Google search results with the same tired information. If I had given myself time to study the material and research on my own, would I have come to the same conclusions? Or would I have stumbled on something better, something different -- something that was mine?

We don't need to ban the Internet or the progression of technology. But we do need to be aware of it as a tool to our own human capabilities instead of using it as a replacement. As Leslie eloquently states, "It's not that the Internet is making us stupid or incurious. Only we can do that."