The Googlization of Memory and Higher Education

“Information, once rare and cherished like caviar, is now plentiful and taken for granted like potatoes” (Vaidhyanathan, 175).

David Shenk, the original author of such quote (Shenk, 9), embodies the problem and the best quality of Google in one simple sentence. Google is possibly the greatest database of information ever. Millions upon millions of Webpages of information become available in often under one second. While some may consider this convenient or even an excellent way to receive information, have “Googlers” began to treat information like Shenk’s hypothetical potatoes? This blog will examine how information, and how it is received has changed, specifically focusing on memory, education and research.

In some ways it is nice to think that Google is always going to be there for people. It is very helpful of course, when one must quickly identify the address of a restaurant for example, or a phone number for that restaurant. The fact that Google can now essentially be carried everywhere with a person through tablets and smart-phones may seem even more convenient, but is this simple accessibility a fair trade for our once cherished memory? Like Vaidhyanathan, many people have trouble remembering little things like phone numbers. To think that Google has nothing to do with that is preposterous. In the past, people would read books, newspapers, fliers etc. and receiving information this way helped build their memory. Tasks like this took time and focus, Googling a small phrase to get the same result does not. As a race, humans have wired their brains to receive information quickly and retain very little. Google is at the forefront of this problem because they have convinced users that Google will always be there for them whenever and wherever they are. The same problem is occurring in the education system, where students are turning to Google more often then their classrooms.

Many people believe they can learn very much from Google. “Learning by definition is an encounter with that you don’t know, what you haven’t thought of, what you couldn’t conceive, and what you never understood or entertained as possible” (Vaidhyanathan, 182). Under this definition provided by Vaidhyanathan, it would appear that users of Google aren’t really learning much at all. This is because in recent years, Google has focused on “personalizing” searches based on a users Google history (Vaidhyanathan, 183). So really, if a user is seeking knowledge, they are never really receiving something they completely “don’t know” or “haven’t thought of” because the results of their search will be tailored to the user based on their past searches. For example, if I was to search, “The Human Genome Project”, my results would be tailored based on my past searches of “The Human Knowledge Project” and “The Googlization of Everything.” Arguments such as this can only make one agree with Vaidhyanathan’s criticism of Jeff Jarvis, who suggested that “higher education follow the contours of Google” (Vaidhyanathan, 184). Jarvis argues that higher education research should be more “collaborative and open” (Vaidhyanathan, 184), but how would this be possible when each students research would be different based on their past searches? In response, Vaidhyanathan points out an ironic point; Google actually appears to be more like a university than a corporate information database (Vaidhyanathan, 186). Instead it almost appears that Google is following the ways of a university instead of the opposite that Jarvis recommends.

 Arguably two of the most important things in professional human life, memory and higher education have been dramatically influenced and changed by Google. Our memory may never be the same thanks to Google, which has rewired our brains to expect information quickly. Higher education will never be the same, more and more students will turn to Google and services like Google Scholar instead of divulging into the massive collection of texts which possess a nearly endless amount of information. Instead of attending classes students will instead attempt to Google their way through university and college, and unfortunately sometimes it may work. One can only hope that Jeff Jarvis’ “Google School” will never exist, but at the pace we’re travelling at now, it wouldn’t be a major surprise.

Google and it’s information have changed our memory, higher education and more. It really makes one wonder…

What Have We Turned Into?

– Ian McDougald



Works Cited

Shenk, David. Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut. San Francisco, CA: Harper Edge, 1997. Print.

Vaidhyanathan, Siva. The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry). Berkeley: University of California, 2011. Print.

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