Compared with most students in our class, my internet life started quiet late. In 2008, I went to college and was so excited to get my first laptop. I haven’t realized that a small thing happened at that time changed my life dramatically until reading and reflecting upon the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”. One day. I asked my roommate about a problem of my new laptop. she simply told me: “You should Google it. When others ask me a question, I often suggest them to search it online first.” Although I was a little upset because she didn’t offer to help, my subconscious mind adapted to her strategy so quickly. From then on, I seldom asked others a question if its “answer” can be found online. Also, whenever others ask me a question that I don’t know, I tend to suggest them to search on Google like my previous roommate.
Now, I am a third-year PhD student and the nine-year experience of online searching changes my learning habits a lot. I’m so addictive to Google search that whenever I meet a difficult question, the first thing comes to my mind is to search for an answer online. It is admitted that online searching makes our life much more convenient than before. However, information overload and distraction seem to make us stupid. For me, my brain usually prefers to look for an answer rather than solving the problem by itself.
According to the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel, our brain has dual processing systems. System 1 likes a “mindless” processor, which is fast and operates heuristically with little cognitive resources. System 2 uses a slow, analytical and deliberate process but requires more cognitive resources. Usually individuals will try to conserve cognitive resources by switching more processing from system 2 to system 1. I think this is what happened to me as well as many other students regarding online search. Indeed, it is quite convenient at the first glance. However, this habit may deplete cognitive resources and the ability to operate system 2 in the long run, since our system 1 dominates the brain more.
As a researcher on food and health. I wonder why convenient and effortless lifestyle is often not good for health. For example, why most convenient foods are unhealthy, and unhealthy foods are usually tastier than health foods? Why physical exercise is good for health but drains willpower? I think this may due to the fact that human evolution is too slow to keep path with the rapid changing environment. Physically, our body still adapts to live a heavy physical labor lifestyle with very limited foods, so our preferences of the energy-intense foods are written in genes. Likewise, our brain still adapts to the old time of low literacy levels, when information was so scarce. In this sense, the ability of filtering useful information from distractions has not been well-trained. As educators, it is our responsibility to help students adapt to learning from online searching and avoid its negative effects, such as lack of deep reading and thinking. I believe this situation can change and we will grow from this process.
Nicholas Carr;? Is Google Making Us Stupid. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/
Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan, 2011.