I’m Feeling Lucky: How Google is Changing Our World

Look familiar? Weve all used it.

Look familiar? We've all used it.

“To Google” has become a new verb in the English language. If we research something of any topic, we are said to have “Googled” it. That means any person, concept, or piece of information that one needs further information about. To Google is to know.

Google, the Internet’s most popular search engine, is a global phenomenon. Everybody, including myself, uses it to find out anything about anything. We use it to research information regarding our favorite sports teams, movies, television shows, medical problems, philosophical questions, historical data, politics, statistics, pop culture, and of course, people.

We Google people to find out things about them that we might not be able to discover otherwise. If we are thinking about dating someone, or hiring them for a job, we Google them to find out their dirty little secrets. For most normal people, their Facebook profile is usually the first hit you will come across. Anything after that is fair game. If there is dirt on you, it will come out. The Internet never lies, as all of us know.

In the old days (meaning the days before computers), if we wanted to find out hidden information about people, we would have to do good old fashioned detective work. That means researching, going to the library, sifting through public records, or following them. Or we would hire a private detective to do the work for us. Either way, either us or someone else would have to do work that borders on stalking a person. Today, we don’t have to stalk. We just need Internet connection.

An article published by The Atlantic by author Nicholas Carr for the July/August 2008 issue entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid” argues that using the Internet rewires our brain to make us process information faster and quicker. We also start to demand that information be brought to us at a similarly fast pace. Carr talks about how sitting down and reading a book has become more difficult for him. He used to be able to sit down and read a book for long periods of time, but now he becomes more fidgety and loses his concentration easier.

Young people who grew up on the Internet and the Google Age can perhaps testify to that as well. The attention spans of today’s kids are shorter than in previous generations, some child behavioral experts say. The invention of fast-paced television shows, where images are flashed on the screen faster than Ichiro Suzuki can beat out an infield base hit, has been blamed for making our kids more dependent on increased stimuli.

Movies like “Transformers” and “Terminator Salvation” depend more on quickly edited special effects than character, story, and dialogue. If you want to maintain an audience’s attention, having two characters sit down and discuss politics like what Frank Langella and Michael Sheen did in last year’s “Frost/Nixon” is not the way to go. Even the Best Picture of 2008, the smash hit “Slumdog Millionaire,” told its very human story with style, flash, and quick editing. Merely telling a straight-forward love story is not enough. Now we need more razzle and dazzle to keep our attention.

(On a side note, a previous blog entry of mine dealt with why young people don’t go to the theatre as much as older generations do. One explanation might be that the theatre isn’t as visually stimulating as movies and television are. Other than big Broadway musicals, most plays are small, intimate, and character-driven. They require us to be active participants in the story, not passive observers. We have to pay close attention to the dialogue or we will miss key plot points. Young people might find the theatre boring because of this. And that might be a tragedy in the Google Age. After all, why pay $30 to go out and see a show when you can see short exciting clips of anything you want on YouTube for free?)

But back to Google. If our lightening-speed entertainment media are rewiring our brains to demand more visual stimuli faster and harder, then Google is doing the same for research and learning. We want our information served to us on a nice platter with chips and salsa on the side. We want the short and simple Wikipedia version of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy, without having to actually read any of his writings. Why bother reading any books about the Spanish Inquisition when Wikipedia summarizes it up nicely for us?

No one can deny that technology and the media change the way we process information. How often do you sit down and read an entire article you find on the web? If you have made it this far on my blog, then you are on the right track. My blog posts tend to be longer than that of most other bloggers’. I think it is important to have some depth to my thoughts. Other writers might not think so.

This is why I am against Twitter, but with the recent election riots going on in Iran, my view of Twitter has slightly changed. The Iranian government has shut down all foreign news coverage of the protests and are making sure their people are kept ignorant about what is happening, as well as keeping the rest of us ignorant. But those brave enough to use Twitter are sending 140-character or less updates on what is happening in Iran. They are risking their lives and personal safety to get the word out on what is happening in that autocratic Islamist regime. Twitter might be the death of Iran’s theocratic government. If that is the case, then micro-blogging does have a place in the world.

I was initially against Twitter because I think it is ridiculous to reduce news items to 140 characters or less. News organizations who have Twitter accounts are making the news less and less deep by feeding Googlephiles their news the way they want it: short and to the point. But short and to the point loses any sense of depth, meaningful analysis, and big picture reporting. And besides, who cares what celebrities are up to at this very minute in their lives? I don’t care if Ellen Degeneres is going shopping or if Terrell Owens is working out at the gym. That means nothing to me!

If living in the Google Age provides any sense of progress, it’s that information is easier to access and has become more democratic. It used to be that the gatekeepers to information were book publishers and media tycoons. Today, anyone can gather, synthesize, report, and publish information. That has its advantages and disadvantages as well, but those issues are too numerous to mention in just one blog entry.

Nor do I think that we are worse off for living in the Google Age. Google is a very helpful tool for learning. It has changed the way college students do their homework (I, as a recent graduate, can now freely admit this), and perhaps the way college professors do their teaching. Google, and online tools like it, gives us more information at our finger tips than we could ever have imagined. Its effects on society are enormous and more research definitely needs to be done.

The invention of blogs makes it that anyone can make their voice heard online. People ranging from me, to you the reader, to famed journalists, to oppressed protesters in Iran. And searching for blogs on topics of your interest is only one Google search away. But don’t expect blogs to give you all the depth and intelligence that you need (mine do, of course!) to fully learn about news, politics, philosophy, and society. That requires you to actually pick up a book and read it, not just skim a short CNN article.

This is not to say that living in Googleville is making us smarter or stupider. All that can be concluded is that the Internet is changing the way we think. It changes the way we process information, the way we expect to learn, and the way we discover our world. This is a fascinating subject that anyone who uses a computer needs to think about. Those of us who grew up on the Internet need to realize that our brains are wired differently than our parents are as a result. Absolutely fascinating.

If you want to know more about how the Internet alters our neurological development and ability to concentrate, I suppose you know how to do that.

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