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Reflections on How the Google Search Engine Affects Intelligence

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Google search is a great tool for searching information that we need for work. It is so easy just to Google something knowing you will have it at the palm of your hand in no time at all or better yet not having to spend hours looking in books for a bit of information. But searching Google for every answer may seem awesome there are some negative impacts it can bring to our own intelligence as well.

There are many benefits for using search engine. For example, it can help us save time, access free information, it can be more comprehensive, allows us to use a more advanced search, and it keeps the relevance of what is being searched. So, these search engines help us a lot in terms of accessing information at the time that we need something. But just because it has good benefits in our search for information does not mean we are being affected negatively.

Philip (2016) ‘Cognitive Offloading: How the Internet Is Changing the Human Brain’ informs about how access to information has become simpler to find and that it’s changing our ways of thinking. Finding information before the Internet was a huge struggle back then and the amount of effort that was needed to find it was hard. But know that the Internet allows us to search any information we want it has become easier than ever. Philip mentions a study that he included in his article about a study made by the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. These studies were conducted by Benjamin Storm who was leading this study. The investigation consisted in how likely the participants would reach for their electronic devices when given a question to answer. So, participants were divided into two groups in which they set one group to use Google while the second group was not. Now this is where things get interesting; after the first series of questions were answered they allowed both groups to use Google. When the second series of questions were given those who use Google were the last to answer the question because they were more likely to rely on the search engine. While the group that did not use Google were faster in answering the questions that is because they were relying on their memory rather than using the search engine. As a result, Benjamin Storm came to this conclusion: “As more information becomes available via smart phones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives”. In other words, Benjamin is telling us that as information becomes easier to access, we start relying daily on the search engines such as Google.

Researchers Evan F Risko and Sam Gilbert refer to this as ‘cognitive offloading’, which means the use of physical action to alter the information processing requirements of a task so as to reduce cognitive demand. According to these two researchers they state that this has been going on for years. Evan and Sam found in their study that people rely on technology when it is superior to their own abilities. According to researchers these devices are needed because our memory has their limits as well.

Stéphanie Thomson (2016) in her article ‘Scientists Say Google Is Changing Our Brains’ demonstrate how Google searches have grown in past few years. In 2007 Google searches were 1.20 in average and for 2013 it has increased to 5.92 in less than five years. She says that thanks to the Internet specifically that people no longer need to rely on their memory for random information or small details. She also mentions, “But with all the knowledge we could ever need at our fingertips, are we outsourcing our memory to the Internet?”, and supports this claim with the exact same study as Philip mentioned in his article about the research Universities of California and Illinois did. This trend of using the Internet researchers is referring to it as ‘cognitive offloading’. She mentions Benjamin Storm stating, “Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother”. In which we agree with him as well because people now a days can remember things perfectly but we have become too dependent on the Google search engine that we rather use it than remember it our self.

In a Ted Talk mention refers to Michael Merzenich, a professor from the University of California in which he explains the details of how the brain is prepared for change. Stéphanie claims: “But is it changing for the better? At this point, we don’t know”. An opinion from people seems to be whether this affects us in a good or bad way. Nicholas Carr, author of ‘What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains’ is not quite pleased with the Internet. Nicholas believes that relying on the Internet over our own memory is affecting us greatly and that it is something necessary for our knowledge and wisdom. Also, other researchers in that field came to the same conclusion as Nicholas.

But other people feel more optimistic about these changes. Clive Thompson points out that this has been happening for many years now even before technology and states: “Humanity has always relied on coping devices to handle the details for us. We’ve long stored knowledge in books and on paper and post-it notes”. Only that nowadays it has been change to technology that help us in those areas. Clive truly believes that the Internet will help grow the intelligence abilities in the human mind. And we believe that it can help us improve; we are not saying it’s good because it still has some negative impact in our brain but if used the right way it can help us grow in a positive way.

Zach Wener-Fligner (2015) in his article ‘Study: Googling Gives You an Inflated Sense of Your Own Intelligence’ says that thanks to the Internet gathering information through search engines such as Google has made things easier to access. The researchers at Yale conducted an experiment in which participants had to answer a few questions in which each one uses a search engine or a given text so that after the experiment they would rate themselves. Outstandingly the one who use search engines thought highly of themselves and superior. As a result, people will think that they know everything thanks to the Internet. The reason why they think that is probably because they can access information with so little effort, they believe they already knew it. On the other hand, searching by book is more effort. Matthew Fisher confirms that those who don’t know the answer it quite clear that they really don’t know. He states: “With the Internet, the lines become blurry between what you know and what you think you know”.

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This all due to what researchers call ‘cognitive offloading’ as mentioned in Philip and Stéphanie articles. Which is the physical action used to reduce the cognitive demands of a task. For example, programming a phone to remind you of upcoming events that is what is referred to as cognitive offloading.

Zhai Yun Tan (2016) in her article on KQED News says that a former English teacher in Kentucky named Terry Heick noticed that his eighth and ninth grade students immediately went to Google to answer his questions. The first question was: “How does a novel represent humanity?”. What surprised Heick was that they would start Googling the question. With the modern technology as we all know today, like popular personal assistants like Siri and Google. They serve up information before you even know you need it; just with a word you’ll have your answer simple as that. She asks, “If with so much information available, does it make us smarter?”. Compared to previous generation that were not born with availability to the Internet and comparing the generation of today, the so-called ‘Google Generation’ since they are born with it.

Heick wanted his students take their time to think and analyze, find information they need, and evaluate each data they find. He wanted them to analyze the data and look for the information just with one word or as less words as possible, to allow his students to think critically. But the process of critical thinking failed since his students instantly search the answer of the question on Google word by word, eliminating the process of critical thinking.

There is a relative lack of research available to investigate the impact of search engines on our minds, even as our lives are increasingly transformed by technology. Some believe that our brain has so much space to engage in more creative activities, as humans have in the past, thanks to easy access to information. A discussion from Steven Pinker in the New York Times about how our brain will be challenged as new technology is created. He states that the Internet and technology are the things that will keep us smart instead of making us dumb. Daphne Bavelier, a professor at the University of Geneva, wrote in 2011 that we lost the ability of oral memorization when writing was invented, but gained additional reading and text analysis skills.

In 2008 a study commissioned by the British Library found that young people seem to not verify the information when browsing online to see if it is accurate. Another study in 2011 a journal Science showed that when people know they have access to the information, they seem to remember how to access that information instead of remembering themselves.

Michele Nelson, an art teacher at Estes Hills Elementary School in Chapel Hill, N.C., who has been teaching for more than nine years, said that it was obvious that students could no longer read long texts. She states: “They just had a really hard time comprehending if they went to a website that had a lot of information. They couldn’t grasp it. They couldn’t figure out what the important thing was”. Even she has a hard time as well.

On the bright side Gary Small, director of the University of California in Los Angeles Longevity Center, made a study in 2009. They explored brain activity on adults using search engines. He found that those who experience using the Internet; their brains are more active. Small says that the Internet is like a brain exercise that can be good for our mental health. He believes that when they are older, they should use the Internet. The main issue is with younger people in which they misuse the technology. Besides that, he is very excited for new technology.

Heick decided to leave a created TeachThought, a company that produces content to support teachers in innovation in teaching and learning for a 21st century audience. The Internet has tremendous potential for education but the program needs to change appropriately. Because material is so readily available, teachers should not give the knowledge easily and instead concentrate on fostering critical thinking in the students. Heick’s company recently started working with schools and organizations in a few states like North Carolina, Texas and New York, to develop lesson plans. Heick states: “Google really lubricates your access to information, and while that’s great, it makes us have to change the way we think about things”. He recommends making questions Google proof which is a great idea.

In any case, we all have our different opinions based on the Google search engine, like Nicholas Carr, who believe it will not benefit us, and others, like Clive Thompson, who believes that it will help us become smarter. In any case, there are both right in their own ways. That is why we need to learn how to use the Internet and not depend on it. That is why people like Heick want to change this for the better. Google search is not a bad thing it just depends on how we use it. So, we ask that you all make the best choices when using the search engine and remember that our brain is the greatest memory of all.

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Reflections on How the Google Search Engine Affects Intelligence. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/reflections-on-how-the-google-search-engine-affects-intelligence/
“Reflections on How the Google Search Engine Affects Intelligence.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/reflections-on-how-the-google-search-engine-affects-intelligence/
Reflections on How the Google Search Engine Affects Intelligence. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/reflections-on-how-the-google-search-engine-affects-intelligence/> [Accessed 4 Feb. 2023].
Reflections on How the Google Search Engine Affects Intelligence [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Oct 28 [cited 2023 Feb 4]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/reflections-on-how-the-google-search-engine-affects-intelligence/
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