YANSS 109 – How search engines inflate your intellectual confidence

Fearing that new technology will lead to lazy thinking is an old concern, one that goes back at least as far as Socrates who was certain that scrolls would make people dumb because they would grow to depend on “external written characters” instead of memorization. Just about every new technology and medium has been vilified at some point by that era’s luddites as finally being the end of deep thinking and the beginning of idiocracy. It never happens, of course, and I doubt it ever will.


The latest research suggest that though technology probably doesn’t make us stupid, it can, however, cause us to believe that we are smarter than we really are.

Knowing you can search the internet is similar to knowing that you can consult a dictionary or a home encyclopedia or make a visit to the library when truly puzzled – but it’s different in that your brain, and the brains of every other cybercitizen, has become accustomed to the power to almost effortlessly reach into the internet and in a second or two bring back the info previously missing from your head, and you can do that mid-conversation, or while driving, or in the subway or on the couch or in line for a concert.

That effortlessness and in-our-pockets availability seems to deeply affect how we categorize what is in our heads and what is not. When we consider all there is to know about a given subject, the convenience of search engines seems to blur the way we think about what we do and do not personally know about the world.

Matthew Fisher YaleAccording to the early studies of researcher Matthew Fisher, the side effect of a familiarity with search engines is an inflated sense of internal knowledge. Habitual googling leads us to mistakenly believe we know more than we actually do about any given subject – and here is the crazy part – that intuition persists even in moments in which we no longer have access to the internet. The more you use Google, it seems, the smarter you feel without it.

In this episode we explore what happens when a human mind becomes aware that it can instantly, on-command, at any time, search for an answer to any question, and then, most of time, find it.

 

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Matthew Fisher

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Image Source: Internet: First Discovery Books

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