Google makes us all dumber: the neuroscience of search engines and the need for a good symbiosis

A very interesting and thought provoking article by Ian Leslie, has recently appeared on the news site The author argues that as search engines get better, people become lazier and hooked on easy answers, undervaluing asking good questions with potentially dangerous consequences for human curiosity. People lose curiosity because they find information ready to use; they are rarely in an unknown situation making them in a condition of superficial knowledge that does not push to explore and go deeper in the discovery of information. Leslie explores the "power" of information seeking in learning, arguing that asking themselves questions is what “launches the journey of exploration”. For Leslie the gap between question and answer is “where creativity thrives and scientific progress is made”.

Stepping aside from Leslie's article we can observe that in literature, the topic of the effects of new technology and their effects on cognition has explored by different authors in the last decade. For instance, Carr’s essay “Is Google making us stupid?” (2008) pointed out how internet is influencing our ability to concentrate, read, memorize, recall and exploring information. Nicholas and other researcher in 2010, investigated the possibility of the the so called "Google generation" (born after 1993)  to behave differently than the older generations in terms of search and internet behaviour,  but also at an attitudinal and cognitive level.

Going back to Leslie's article we see that the concept of symbiosis is very central to its arguments, and therefore very relevant to the MindSee project: "My argument isn’t with technology, but the way we use it. It’s not that the Internet ismaking us stupid or incurious. Only we can do that. It’s that we will only realize the potential of technology and humans working together when each is focused on its strengths — and that means we need to consciously cultivate effortful curiosity". Only the right symbiosis of machine and human can change information seeking for the better, creating deep understanding of the information and of ourselves.

Sources and references:

  • Carr, N. (2008). The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Nicholas, D., Rowlands, I., Clark, D., Williams, P (2010).  Google Generation II: web behaviour experiments with the BBC, Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives, Vol. 63 No. 1, 2011pp. 28-45.