Nicholas Carr, blogger, journalist, and author, most recently of The Big Switch, wrote this short but thought- provoking piece in this month’s issue of the Atlantic called Is Google Making us Stupid?: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
It’s a succinct and readable discussion not only of some of the possible downside of living so much of our lives on the Net, but also a nice mini lecture on some of the positive and negative impacts of technology on culture, going all the way back to Socrates’ classic concerns that writing would reduce all of our abilities to remember, and to devalue oral communications.
I’ve been thinking of a related issue for a little bit of time too–what does the Google mindset do to the serious researcher? Is it making us lazy, more passive, more willing to define research as tapping a few words into a search engine and accepting the top 10 results as our result?
Librarians and information professionals, academics, grad students (I hope) and truly savvy searchers know that good research is much more that this of course. But I know I’m as guilty as anyone out there when I turn to lean back in my desk chair and call up my home page Google to find an answer, source, or piece of information to a research question I’m pursuing.
The key to me it seems is to remember to be mindful that good research is (or at least begins) as an inner directed process. That is: taking the time to figure out what you really want to discover, why you want it, what you’re going to do with it, what is the most likely place to find it/who would know (including sources off the Net), and taking the steps and process you need to do the work to find the best sources, most efficiently. It’s not tapping words out into a search engine, or even worse, relying on an automated or “intelligent” solution that sends you articles, blog postings, news etc. that the system thinks or assumes you want, based on some algorithm, past search behaviour, etc.
Even in the age of the Net and Google, to truly perform research still means making an effort and taking an ACTIVE not passive approach to the process. It still means thinking.