Friday, March 18, 2011

Runner-up: We are being assimilated into the Google Collective…but maybe it’s not so bad.

How many times have you Googled something today? I can tell you that all together, Google handled about 293.8 million requests today. Well, I guess that’s on average, I just Googled it real quick. It’s kind of scary just how much information is instantly available at our fingertips. This development is quite recent, or at least that is how it seems. I remember learning what a search engine was in sixth grade. This was back when our home computer would block the phone line to provide a foot-deep pixilated portal to the online world. I sound like I’m 110 years old, but this is no “uphill to school both ways in the snow” story. In under a decade, lightning fast internet connections are available in the palm of our hand, and behind the reigns of this wild technology steed: Google. Think of how long it would take to find what you want if you had to search for domain names on your own. Google makes it so easy, BUT AT WHAT COST?

Do you ever feel that sometimes a Google search knows more about what you want than you do? Do you even remember when the autocomplete search bar became a feature? More recently, Google Instant will display the results to what you are trying to find before you are even done thinking it. A page appears ranking what is “best” for your inquiry. Best based on what? Sheer monstrosities of data. How can 293.8 million opinions be wrong right? I am only partially kidding. It seems as if time would be better spent learning to use the many tools Google has to offer effectively rather than learning about things like math, science, and history. Think back to your last problem set. How many equations did you search for? How many facts did you verify for your RBA? Chances are you found what you are looking for, and chances are there was an even faster way to find it still. We are constantly plugging in to this large collection of common data, and independent knowledge seems obsolete compared to the ability to find information effectively.

I’ve led us along to this point making one major assumption though: that people do not retain the information they search for. Thankfully, that is just not true. This is the reason I feel we should be excited about what the power of Google can do for us rather than fearful. Google does not degrade the importance of an individuals knowledge; it instead provides the opportunity for many more to gain that knowledge. Before, maybe one in ten people could tell you the fastest route to the nearest hospital. Now, anyone can know with Google Maps. And, this sharing doesn’t even stop at borders. Google’s browser Chrome has the ability to translate entire pages into different languages. Stop and think about that. The World Wide Web can now live up to its name! These two examples are only the beginning.

Problems will only occur if we stop asking questions (that is until Google Questions becomes a feature). But seriously, it is our ability to ask questions that makes us the individual who contribute to a collection and not a entity of the collection. We can use the access to great amounts of knowledge to help us construct new answers which can then be shared with the world, prompting new questions in a cyclic process. This easy access to so much information can change what and how we know, but I don’t believe it will ever have a negative affect on who we are.

David Nelloms

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