The other day I was sitting in Starbucks working on my laptop. The day was losing it’s light, but I still had a lot more work to do. I wanted to know what time the Starbucks closed.
I looked up. A barista, whose name tag read ‘Sean’, was clearing the table next to me. With his floppy blonde hair and toothy grin, Sean looked like a friendly enough guy to engage in a conversation with. But instead of asking Sean when the Starbucks closed I opened up a new tab on the glaring screen in front of me and googled it.
Googling this probably actually took more time than asking Sean. But it was the easier thing to do, right? It avoided unnecessary conversation and actually thinking about it, maybe everyone knew when Starbucks closed and this was an entirely stupid thing to ask. So I turned to my trusty old friend, with it’s perfectly coloured logo, who wouldn’t judge me for asking. I turned to Google.
How often do we do this? How often do we turn to Google when we don’t actually have to? We Google something we already know the answer to, just for the reassurance, just to double check we actually are right. We Google Map a location that we’ve already been to a handful of times, just to check again how to get there, and anyway we might have been missing out on a quicker route this whole time.
Google starts arguments, it settles arguments, it’s everyone’s quick fix answer machine. If we don’t know something, we google it.
Now think, before Google, before the internet, what was everyone’s instinctive reaction when they didn’t know the answer to something? Well first, you would ask someone. The same way kids do, before they have access to technology. You would go to someone you thought knew the answer, or at least knew something about it. Or maybe you would seek out a book you thought might help you. This way of finding answers meant that everyone was entering into a discourse, you were finding an answer through an organic route. The person you asked might want to know your views on the subject too. The book you read might reference another book that gives you even more insight. This method of finding an answer could find you the answer whilst also being fruitful in other ways too.
But now, to find an answer to something, we have a much more anonymous and impersonal way of finding it. We enter the question into the search bar, and moments later the text appears in front of us, rewarding us with the answer. We never question it. We take Google’s answer as gospel, without ever wondering where the answer was sourced.
We would never submit to a person’s answer so quickly in real life, so why do we give Google such flattering treatment?
Let’s say, two friends Hannah and Paul are sitting with some other mates in the pub and start having a disagreement over who they think is most at fault for World War II. Voices raise a little, and then one of their mates gets out their phone and says,
“Right let’s Google it and see who is right!”
After a few seconds, Paul is smiling. ‘I told you it was Germany.” But Paul isn’t the victor here. Neither is Hannah. Google is.
Before Google, the decider of this disagreement would be the person who had the most convincing argument. The decider would be who had the most wit and knowledge to back up their point. We had to use our own brains to find the answer, not use the artificial brain of a disturbingly speedy answer machine.
This isn’t denying that Google is an outstandingly helpful source of information. How many lives has Google saved? The internet has made all kinds of knowledge accessible to all, no matter our gender, race or class, we are all just a few clicks away from broadening our knowledge. And for that, of course, Google should be celebrated.
But as much as we love the internet, as much as we love Google, it’s killing our brains. We should not be satisfied with the quick fix answer. We need to go further, delve deeper, and question the answer that sits on the pixelated screen in front of us. Because Google isn’t as clever as it likes to think it is, but you are.
Google is feeding into the populations’ self doubt. We think Google is ‘cleverer’ than us, so why risk being wrong? Why not just Google it first so we know we are right? Why not? Because we knew we were right all along. We were just so scared of being wrong that we made ourselves think we didn’t know. But we did know.
We need to start trusting ourselves and relying on our own almighty powerful brains to come up with the answer. Because if I was honest, I didn’t need Google or Sean, I knew what time Starbucks closed all along.