I used to be smart. I swear it. Ask my friends and they’ll tell you that I used to be a fountain of knowledge and would often make interesting non-linear connections that would provide new insights to things that we all take for granted. Conversations with me used to be intellectually challenging and emotionally stimulating. But all of that changed somehow over the years and I’ve finally figured out why.
Google. Yelp. Rotten Tomatoes. Amazon. Audible. Zabihah. StackOverflow. Choice.
Easy access to information has made it less important for me to apply my critical thinking abilities. I won’t speak about your experiences, but I have a hunch that they aren’t too far from my own. I’ve been in countless conversations over the years in which I, and my conversation partners, will find ourselves at a question to which there is a definite answer that eludes us. Maybe it’s some factual question that we just don’t know the answer to. Inevitably, someone shouts “Let’s Google it,” and an Android or iPhone appears as trained and focused thumbs get to work asking the oracle of the world.
There’s no more thinking or debating about what the answer could be. In life, if I’ve learned anything at all, it’s that the journey is far more important than the destination. When I’m with friends and we’re trying to figure out a good place to eat, we used to talk and argue and debate until a consensus (or concession) was reached. Now, someone just asks Yelp and whatever place has the highest stars is where we go. Isn’t the very exercise of discussing places how memories are made? Isn’t that the venue that we use to exercise our brains? Thinking about what food I want and what other people would like, factoring in things like location and price, considering possible reputation and then coming up with my own conclusion is what made me smart. Now, I’ve unloaded a considerable amount of that thought process onto Yelp.
For all of you developers out there, how awesome is StackOverflow? For those of you that aren’t, it’s a Q&A site for developers to ask questions to their programming challenges and get insightful answers quickly. As of this post, I’ve asked over 200 questions and my questions have generated well over 20,000 page views! You can see my questions on my profile. Even in my own craft, I’ve outsourced the thinking aspect to other people. Reading through my questions, the answers are so obvious, if only I took the time to figure them out myself instead of taking the easy way out. I used to be a great software developer, now I’m a great question asker.
There are hundreds of examples from my own life in which I’ve decided to turn my brain off because the information was easily accessible elsewhere. As a result, I’ve certainly learned a lot about how to format my queries and questions, but I’m not sure how much I’ve actually learned. There are those that will react to my thoughts with the polar opposite of “but our lives are so much easier now!!!!1111!” or “would you rather live in the stone age?? LOL/JK!”. To them, I say, there is no need to revert to the stone age to combat the problem of turning off our brains.
My Solution. The next time we speak, I won’t “Google an answer” nor will I request that you do it. The next time we go out to eat, I won’t choose based on some arbitrary star rating. The next time I want to find a book to read, I’ll evaluate it based on the merits of the summary. The next time I have a programming challenge, I won’t just ask the world until I at least give an honest attempt to solve it myself.
Maybe I’ll move slower as a result, but I’m confident that my brain will enhance and my connections with my fellow homo sapiens will be deepened. What about you… has Google made you dumb too?