Atlantic CoverYesterday I read on about an article, called Is Google Making Us Stupid, which appears in the July issue of The Atlantic. Reading about the article I was gearing myself up for wanting to throw things at the author because I assumed, something one should of course never do, that the focus of the piece was on how technology is causing the demise of reading, writing, and thinking. And, to some extent, I was correct making that assumption.

However, near the end of the article the author, Nick Carr, admits something that I think helps to put some of what he states earlier in the piece into a different perspective. He writes:

Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

That’s really it. We don’t know the ultimate impact of new technologies on the teens and youth that we serve. Since we aren’t growing up with the technology the same way these young people are, we just can’t fathom what the future will bring. We don’t know what exciting new opportunities for thinking, reading, and writing Google and other technologies will lead to.

Even if we can’t specifically outline how teens will lead their adult lives as a result of these new technologies, we still do have to consider what our responsibility is when it comes to teen use of technology. That responsibility is multi-fold, we need to:

  • Teach teens how to be smart, safe, and savvy users of the technology. We need to help them understand how to use the tools and think about what they are doing as a part of that use.
  • Be open-minded about new technologies and not simply assume that because a teen uses Google that she isn’t thinking about what she is doing. And, if she isn’t thinking about what she is doing then we need to give her opportunities to do that.
  • Realize that as adults using technology we have a very different experience than teens who have spent every day of their lives with technology. Many teens came out of the womb clicking – to paraphrase Chris O’Neal in a podcast interview with Steve Hargadon. As a result, their concept of deep reading and thinking is already different than that of an adult, who didn’t leave the womb clicking.
  • Give teens respect by not assuming that their use of technology is all about making life easy. Realize that what teens are doing with technology tools varies based on need and purpose. Sometimes a teen is taking the easy way out – just like you and me at times – but sometimes she might really get into something she finds via a Google search and do the deep reading and thinking that Nick Carr longs for.

Just because we adults can’t foretell the future in the new technological world in which we live doesn’t mean that we don’t have some responsibility in terms of what that world might be. That responsibility is not however to blame Google and other tools for the lack of thinking a teen might be doing. Google isn’t making anyone stupid. What Google is doing is making us re-think the ways in which we all accomplish tasks and spend our time.

That thinking might not come from a book that we read but does it really matter what is the catalyst for deep and critical thinking? Whether it is Socrates, a set of links on a result list in Google, or an article in The Atlantic that makes someone think, thinking is good. You can quote me on that.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

One Thought on “Google, Stupidity, & What We Know & Don’t Know

  1. (Warning- rant-y, verging on incoherent comment ahead…)

    I’m often amused by what I see as a focus on young adults when it comes to things like Google. zomg, kids are getting stupider! They don’t know how to use anything! Can’t we talk about how Google has changed searching for Everyone? In classroom discussions on steering kids away from Google & Wikipedia (I swear, this is half of library school) inevitably the professor and half the grad students will admit, “I mean, I use them all the time, but…”

    And what is Google giving us? As a friend of mine pointed out, if a website doesn’t come up on the first page of results, many users are never going to find it. If it doesn’t come up on the first two or three pages, it might as well not exist.

    But what are we really complaining about? Poor search results have existed as long as we’ve been searching. I can remember dead-end searches with old skool card catalogs. I had a college professor recommend I use Amazon instead of our OPAC for research because they do better keyword searching (so true, by the way!). If kids aren’t getting the deep knowledge or research skills we long for by using Google, *the problem isn’t Google.* The problem is that we’re not on the same page with our teens. Then the question we have to ask is, which page should we be on together?

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