Google is not Making us Stupider!
A very compelling argument was recently presented to me: “Google is Making us Stupid!”. “Why?”, I responded with a confused face. “Well it’s simple”, my interlocutor replied. He went on to make his point. For the sake of brevity I will sum up his reasoning. People don’t try to remember anything anymore. They just load up their browser, where Google is set as the default homepage half of the time. They type in a couple of keywords they can remember are associated with the element in question they want to interact with. And BAM! Just like if it was the all knowing, all wise, Galactic AC responds with the answer.
At first this seems like a very convenient tool. The Internet has a wealth of information on just about every topic there is. With the new advances in social networking and user generated content, the amount of information grows exponentially. Weather the quality of this content is good or not is another subject all together. Yet this information is not very well categorized. Even if it was, there is so much to go through that it would be humanly impossible to actually find what you are looking for if you don’t already know where it is to begin with. In short, Google is the best thing since individually wrapped sliced cheese.
Where lies the problem? People no longer are using their brains. They are not trying to remember everything. They assume Google will always be available to them. It will always give them a zippy response with accurate results. Why bother remembering anything to begin with. I must admit, there are a lot of sites I visit frequently which I don’t even bother bookmarking, whenever I doubt how to spell a word correctly I use it, it’s my first stop for any investigation no matter it’s size, scope or objective.
This argument is true. It is true but only under a traditionalist context of education based on memorization. For the folks reading from the good ol’ U.S. of A., your education definitely has been influenced by this, but it is not so bad. If I am so lucky to have readers from other industrialized nations, it’s pretty safe to assume your education level is superior (if not at least equal) to that of the U.S., so again, you were probably exposed to it, but not in extreme measures. I had half of my education in the lovely Caribbean paradise some call the Dominican Republic. Creativity, spontaneity or problem solving or not high on the priority lists of most teachers. Their method is very simple. The teacher speaks, the student listens. Rinse and repeat. Eventually, the student will have the lesson scarred to his brain, and use this valuable “learning experience” in the walks of life where it may become necessary. This is applied for every subject, from math and science (where some of this could necessary due to the nature of the disciplines), to religion and music (where it simply doesn’t make any sense at all).
The student would repeat, memorize, and spit out everything they stored the next day. This is essential in order to please the teacher and achieve acceptable grades. The better you are at memorizing yesterday’s lesson and spitting it out with as little help or resources as possible, the better grades you got. It was never about your skills in a certain science, or your understanding of the complexities of a certain circumstance, or reflexion on how the elements work. It was repetition. If you can repeat, you are an excellent student! Needless to say, this caused me more than my fair share of frustration while at school, but that’s another story.
What is wrong with this approach? The student is given a task. That task is to repeat what he/she has been order to bottle up. Once this is done, the student has proved his/her worth, and their is no need to maintain this so called “knowledge”, so it is simply thrown out for more relevant information. It is the natural order of things. You remember how to eat and sleep. They are essential to your survival. You might not remember the name of that guy you bumped into last week, if it didn’t make much of a difference in your experience. If that “knowledge” is simply replaced with the next week’s lesson, then what is the whole point of the education system in the first place? By the end you leave high school, you will simply remember the last lesson of the year, if that at all.
The tendency to think that if you cant remember a URL that means that you are stupid comes from a base in education under this system. It is only natural. That is what has been defined as “being smart”. If you can’t do it, it means you simply do not posses that quality. And stand back! Because the person scolding you has harvested their unique memorization abilities for years! He/She will put it in just to impress you. Have no doubt.
It’s very simply to see at a glance what is wrong with this system, but, what do we replace it with? It’s called “critical thinking”. The important thing to teach is not the Who, Where, When, or What. The important things are the Why and the How. The value of PI = 3.1416. You insert that into the formula, and it will give you the answer. Great! You can even pass the trigonometry test if you can remember the number, but did they bother to explain to you, why that value? Why not 5.2345 or 9.18938? Where did it come from? What does it mean? When an interest is sparked in knowing what happens behind the scene it is assimilated as a valuable lesson. This sticks with you because you understand the concept. The understanding of a concept is several orders of magnitude more powerful than the memorization of a constant.
Does Google make me stupider (pun intended)? No. It doesn’t. It relieves me of the necessity of remembering things. Since we’ve already covered the topic detailing that remembering things does not enhance your abilities, we can draw upon the simple conclusion that it does not affect your intelligence. I would even go as far as to counter argue that it is a stimulant to make you smarter. You don’t have to dedicate time to memorization, it does it for you. You can dedicate your time to what’s really important. Finding out the Why and the How.
In my wet dreams I become appointed the Secretary of Education of my country. I lead an education revolution which emphasizes critical thinking in schools from kindergarten to PHD’s. In the long run this change makes my country more competent in it’s economical, cultural and social contexts. There is more probability of me winning the lottery with a couple of million dollars than that happening. Now a days I limit myself to try to teach this to the people around me. I do believe that if we all try we can make a difference. The question is how long will it be until a favorable impact on society as a whole can be perceived?