Thursday, March 8, 2012

Google Brain Drain

We’ve all had arguments with our friends about trivial matters or just trivia. A discussion between two individuals will encompass the entire group and sides will be taken. Considering the heightened passions involved, you’d think the answer will judge the fate of the free world. One group adamantly insists that fuschia/fuchsia is spelled as “fuschia;” the other side will vehemently contend that the color is properly spelled as “fuchsia.” Some mild insults might be hurled until someone (wisely) suggests to “Just google it!” And then the debate ends, when we see on Wikipedia that “Fuchsia is a vivid reddish or pinkish purple color named after the flower of the fuchsia plant…” Nowadays, these (usually senseless) debates still exist but are now cut considerably shorter because of easy access to the Internet. With just a few clicks on a phone or Ipad, we get the answer. However, this instant availability of information not only eliminates friendly/fiery discussions but also affects our cognitive habits.

In a research conducted by a Columbia University assistant professor of psychology published in the journal “Science,” she has identified three new realities about how we process information in the Internet age. “First, when we don't know the answer to a question, we now think about where we can find the nearest Web connection instead of the subject of the question itself. For example, the query ‘Are there any countries with only one color in their flag?’ prompted study participants to think not about flags but about computers.” Second is “when we expect to be able to find information again later on, we don't remember it as well as when we think it might become unavailable… Since search engines are continually available to us, we may often be in a state of not feeling we need to encode the information internally. When we need it, we will look it up.” The third new reality is ”the expectation that we'll be able to locate information down the line leads us to form a memory not of the fact itself but of where we'll be able to find it… We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools."

It’s as if we are getting used to delegate the things we should remember to computers. Gone are the days of post-it reminders on desks, refrigerator doors or any other light-adhesive-friendly surfaces. But the harm on our mental processing is that ”skills like critical thinking and analysis must develop in the context of facts: we need something to think and reason about, after all. And these facts can't be Googled as we go; they need to be stored in the original hard drive, our long-term memory. Especially in the case of children, where factual knowledge must precede skill, meaning that the days of drilling the multiplication table and memorizing the names of the Presidents aren't over quite yet. Adults, too, need to recruit a supply of stored knowledge in order to situate and evaluate new information they encounter. You can't Google context.”

Source: 10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life (Time Magazine, March 12, 2012)

Candice See
Blog Entry #12

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