Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Looked Up God On The Internet, And It Said He's Dead

By Darryl Mason

Opinonist Miranda Devine is worried
about becoming as intellectually irrelevant in her children's lives as she is in the lives of her fading Sydney Morning Herald readers : generation will be the last to remember life without a search engine to instantly satiate curiosity, we are the only ones left to contemplate a downside.

My sons' generation have never known a world without Google. If they have a question, whether about the Super Bowl or Frost/Nixon or penguins, they search for the answer online instantly. Why bother to explore the imperfect memory banks of parents and teachers when Wikipedia and are at their fingertips.

Well yeah, why indeed? Why should kids waste their time asking their parents for information that is faster, more thorough, and more easily accessible online?
If they are betting each other about something, they immediately resolve the question online, leaving little room to develop the bush lawyer skills of browbeating an opponent and prosecuting your case....
Google is apparently stopping kids from learning how to "browbeat" others into accepting a false truth. It stops children from learning to stubbornly argue their own beliefs like highly opionated ignorants, locked into a belief system that locks in place an acceptable reality.
Google may be the cranial equivalent of those motorised scooters ridden by obese Americans at Disneyland. Initially a prop for a lazy brain, it soon becomes essential.
What apparently concerns Miranda Devine most is that the very act of going to Google, instead of just asking mum or seeking out answers through non-internet means, is actually transforming the presumably God-delivered architecture of our brains, and consciousness :

The way we use our brain actually changes its physical structure over time. It is a "lifetime work in progress" that retains plasticity - the capacity for change - as long as we live.

"Our brain's organisation will undergo greater changes during the next few decades than at any time in our history … This technologically-driven change in the brain is the biggest modification in the last 200,000 years …"

....if we always are to sate our curiosity with an answer provided by someone else, where is the room for original thought? Rather than taxing our brain, we only plunder the store of what the world already knows.

Google, like other search engines, gives easy access to the greatest collection of human history, opinion, events, art, design, obscure details and general information our species has ever collected, sorted, compiled. And it's nearly all free to read, to soak up, to wonder over, to then argue and debate. And correct, if necessary.

There were a few people in the mid-1800s who, while not knowing what bacteria was, realised that surgeons washing their hands before and after operations dramatically cut down on the spread of deadly infections in their patients. This essential truth was subject to much heated and career-destroying debate, for decades, and plenty of angry exchanges with those who refused to believe the truth. Surgeons continued to operate without washing their hands first well in the early 1900s. Hundreds of thousands of people died unecessarily because this essential truth was denied to the masses, was halted from becoming an essential common Truth.

A revolutionary, world-changing, life-saving discovery, such as the above, would now be dispersed across the wired world within minutes, and it would be all but impossible to ignore such a truth because everyone around you, from the receptionist to your patients, would be telling you you're an idiot because you still refuse to believe it.

I can't see how Google is essentially any different from the arrival of encyclopedia in homes more than a century ago, or the establishment of libraries in schools.

Wasn't having a Big Book Of Facts, a copy of the Guiness Book Of World Records and a couple of world history books kicking around somewhere in the house pretty much the same thing as basic Googling? Regardless of the technology involved?

Maybe the real pain is having your children listen to you explain how something works, or how an historic event unfolded, and then a few minutes and a few Google key word searches later hearing your offspring declare, "You're so wrong on that, you weren't even close."