The advent of search engines like Google, it has been claimed, provides ample opportunity for us humans to habitually underutilize our brains and also have apparently reduced our ability to think.
Such claims are a result of what people have observed and experienced especially during the course of their education.
However, I have a few issues with this claim and consequently, I disagree.
I think the problem has more to do with an education system that has failed to evolve with the kind of information resources that are now available and the manner in which humans are now learnING using these information resources. I cannot speak for the system of education in other countries but I can speak of that which I happen to be a product of, Nigeria.
Education in Nigeria
I have had most, if not all of my education in Nigeria. Therefore, I understand the system to an appreciable extent. I believe I understand how Nigerian students are expected to learn and the kind of academic challenges that Nigerian students are presented with.
I also believe that the education system in Nigeria has not evolved to effectively utilize the kind of information resources students now have at their disposal.
Considering the status quo, it is quite logical to conclude that Google and other search engines are tools that seem to remove the need for students to think deeply and logically about concepts, topics, issues and problems.
Of course, why stress your brain when you can just type in a keyword in a search engine and have all the answers to your questions thrown at you?
For this reason, many people feel search engines have made things easy for students and are therefore a problem. On the other hand, when one looks at the issue from another perspective, one can also conclude that the facilities provided by search engines and other similar electronic information archiving and retrieval systems actually enable humans more effectively to use their mental abilities.
Rather than wasting time trying to independently formulate the rudimentary basics of a problem, we now have the luxury of gathering these bits of information with quite some ease and then using those bits to form more useful theories and solutions using our human faculties.
Unfortunately, the old ways of educating people do not seem to agree with this. For instance, it is not at all strange to find teachers in secondary and tertiary institutions in Nigeria still giving out assignments to their students that go along the lines of “List and Explain 5 Problems Faced in Teaching the English Language”. This is the kind of take home assignment you might be given in a course as an English Education undergraduate in Nigeria.
This is the kind of thing a search engine is very likely to spit at you after submitting a few keywords. With exercises like these, students are sure to constantly underutilize their reasoning abilities and as such the search engines should not be blamed for it.
I think the question should rather be something along the lines of “There are problems faced by English Language teachers. As a teacher of the English Language, discuss how you would effectively deal with some of these problems” or at least something similar.
My point here basically is that instead of requiring students to produce basic information that can be easily gleaned from a search engine, why not rather require students to use this readily available information to think logically to produce solutions or other useful ideas.
This way, search engines would not seem so evil and would actually serve as tools to help students more effectively use their brains.
Search Engines are not the problem
This is why I think search engines are not the problem. The problem lies with the way our educational institutions, or more specifically, our teachers expect us to learn.
With a few adjustments to our formal learning systems, search engines and other easily searcheable information sources would actually enhance the efficiency with which we use our intellectual abilities to learn and generate new ideas.
They would not just serve as a means through which we can lazily gather information to throw in some other direction where it is wanted.
Cover Image Credit: Carla Gomez Monroy