osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Google Does Not Make You Stupid; People Are Stupid About Google

There as been all sorts of news about this study that when people believe they have information backed up on computer, they do not remember it, and that the ability to use search engines to locate data leads to a decrease in memory. The most common headline I have seen on this is "Does Google Make You Stupid?

Actually, my reaction when I saw this was "damn, my secret is out." For a very long time, people have remarked on my supposed memory and ability to recall facts. It was, in fact, one of my prime assets when I was in private practice. I was the guy from the Heinlien story "They Also Walk Dogs;" the one who sits in the basement and reads whatever he wants and, every now and then, they ask him a question. I was permitted to spend endless time online provided I kept an IM window open because I would get random questions from various other lawyers about the Internet and how it worked and oddball legal implications (this was 1997-99, when the Internet was still a big black box for many folks).

My trick was my vast set of resources and social networks (well, vast for 1997-99). Every now and then, someone would say "you just know everything" and I would reply "no, but I know where to find everything." For any obscure question, I usually knew the right geek to ask. In exchange, when they had questions for me, I tried to answer.

The other thing I thought of when seeing the stories on this was a story from Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman, where Feynman is at Princeton taking a biology class. To prepare for his class presentation, he asks the librarian for the "map of the cat." As he starts his presentation, he starts to draw a diagram of the cat on the board.

"Why are you drawing that?" One of the students asks. "We all memorized this."

Feynman concludes: "That's when I realized why so much more progress was made in physics than biology, they wasted all their time memorizing things they could look up!"

I think we the general public, and particularly the popular press, are always looking for the "one true way" we are supposed to do things. There is supposed to be a most efficient way to problem solve, to organize, to think, to do this or that thing. It is also the case that people tend to show alarm at the prospect of all this changing. Personally, I think the idea of remembering and storing a lot more pointers to information than actually storing the information is more efficient. Others have different experiences. But by and large, I don't think Google makes us stupid, even if some people are stupid about Google.

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