Google as mental prosthetic

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.

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TOPICS: Google
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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

Topic: Google

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9 comments
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  • Google and Intelligence

    I have to disagree, at least in part, with your assertion that Google makes people smarter. Google only makes people smarter if they're finding the *right* information. And if you don't understand the nature of the Internet, and of credentialed information, you actually end up *stupider*, because you've latched on to incorrect information that you've taken to be authoritative.
    bhartman24
    • Google and Intelligence

      You state that you have to disagree, at least in part. I agree -- particularly with the "in part." You qualify, and for good reason. Google will tend to list the more authoritative sites first. Now if someone simply goes with the first site they see, this could still be problematic, given what Google means by "authoritative." But if they are encouraged to learn more by examining more sites -- at which point they will learn that some of their sources disagree. Then they will begin to learn the need to be able to establish who is authoritative or more credible. But this is only a beginning, and it largely assumes that they begin to take command of Google for themselves.
      timmyChase
      • Google and authrority

        Hi, timmyChase.

        You said:

        "Google will tend to list the more authoritative sites first."

        The problem is how Google measures authority. The PageRank methodology Google uses ranks sites by how many other sites link to them, *not* by how authoritative the site is, per se. What it amounts to is a popularity contest. Now, sometimes this is a good bet, and sometimes it's not.

        Like you, I would hope that people explore further than going to the first site that Google spits out, but it's not necessarily the case. If you're looking for quick information, you're probably going to stop at the first site that gives you (what you hope is) good information.
        bhartman24
        • Google and Authority

          The assumption is that if the content is wrong, it won't be linked to.

          So the test case would be how many right-wing sites link to other right-wing sites? And, which right-wing sites are authoritative? None, unless you are studying right-wing sites, or you agree with them.

          How many conspiracy-nut sites link to other conspiracy nut sites.

          Culture is a matter of ontology. People that participate in a culture tend to link to each other. So links are not an indication of authority.

          The web is devoid of authority. Paying for content is what gets you authority. Most of us (technical enthusiasts) won't pay for content.
          Dave48000
    • BS Filtration and the Internet...

      The internet is a great source of information only if you have been trained or have trained yourself to trust nothing until verified. Something a few newsrooms across this country have been having to relearn. In other words, you have to learn to be a good journalist with excellent factfinding skills and the ability to separate fact from fiction and propaganda, both of which exist in profusion on the internet. Repeat after me, "The Onion is not a trusted source." Amazingly, "journalists" have been taken in and have republised news articles from a lampoon site as fact. Company sites are great at disseminating the company line, but it's up to you to separate PR from fact.
      boomslang_z
      • In other words,

        knowledge still does not equal intelligence...
        douglen9
        • Data vs. Information

          Hi, Shiver.

          Not only does knowledge not equal intelligence, but data does not equal knowledge. That's the main problem people are facing now with the Internet. People get into all this data from different sites (whether it's numerical data, text, photos or whatever) and they believe that because they've been exposed to it, they now "know" something. The "Wild West" nature of the Internet leaves people with precious few sources of reliable information. And Google may actually increase this problem, relying as it does on popularity to rank sites.
          bhartman24
          • Know Something

            Actually, Google will teach you some "Know About" knowledge. That is what I characterize as content that lets you be "on" a discipline, rather than "in" a discipline.

            Did you become an accountant when you took intro to accounting? Or, did you take it, because you had to in order to graduate? Did you study it well enough to make an A, and then promptly forgot it? If so, you were "on" accounting.

            Did you walk around seeing the world as transactions and journal entries? Did you take accounting, because you liked it, loved it, couldn't live without it? Did you think like an accountant? If so, you were "in" accounting.

            Google can get you "on." But, by itself, in a single or a few searches, it can't get you "in." Do enough searches though, searches that focus on "how to" knowledge, and Google can get you "in."

            It's up to the user how far and how deep they go. It isn't up to Google.
            Dave48000
      • Fiction and Propoganda

        Fiction and propoganda are everywhere not just on the web.

        It was always funny to read liberal and conservative sites consecutively. You got to see both sides spinning the topic of the day. The answer isn't in the middle. The answer is somewhere else entirely.

        Everything is spun. Even "Snow White." Ask a german how their version ends.
        Dave48000