Google as mental prosthetic

Summary:I gave a talk recently at which many people had Wi-Fi-enabled PCs open on their laps. It puts a lot of pressure on a speaker when your audience has Google and your own technical resources are limited to a flaky lapel mike and a glass of water.

I gave a talk recently at which many people had Wi-Fi-enabled PCs open on their laps. It puts a lot of pressure on a speaker when your audience has Google and your own technical resources are limited to a flaky lapel mike and a glass of water. You mention a product and they can check the specs for themselves--and heaven help you if you get the least little detail wrong. ("Um, Mr. Gottsman, contrary to your assertion, the Fumblewacker 9000 is actually a sort of pale teal...") On the one hand, you can argue that it's rude. On the other hand, it's really incumbent on the presenter to distract people from their laptops. (On still another hand, it's hard for any presenter short of Eddie Izzard to compete with cnn.com, msnbc.com, or just fill in the website of your choice). Meanwhile the impassioned arguments that once led to bar bets are giving way to quick, peaceful, Google-enabled resolutions. (People in bars are also, incidentally, using their cell phones to Google one another.)

So what?

To the extent that intelligence consists of having a large memory, Google (and the other search engines) is certainly making people smarter. It's more than that, though: Some elementary school teachers (unscientific survey coming up) say that kids today are asking more questions than their predecessors--possibly because their parents use Google, so they hear fewer "Because!" responses and more actual answers, which encourages them to ask yet more questions. (I've noticed this kind of smart aleck behavior in my own kids.) So, Google may actually be nurturing a very different attitude toward life-long learning, and in so doing may be creating a fundamentally new kind of person--someone who's less patient, more inquisitive, less willing to take "No" for an answer and more certain of his or her facts. In other words, a pain in the neck. Oh, well. I suppose it couldn't all be good news. --Ed Gottsman

Topics: Google

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