PULLMAN – When Brandon Howard was confronted with the provocative question, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” his first thought was, “I don’t know. Let’s Google it.”
 

Panelists Meriem Chida and

Jason McConnell

On Tuesday the WSU Center for Civic Engagement invited Howard, an elementary education major, and four other panelists to discuss that question in its first Under the Big Tent debate of the semester. The other panelists were
Meriem Chida, assistant professor in Apparel Merchandising, Design and Textiles,
Steven Kale, professor of history,
Jason McConnell, president of the Graduate and Professional Students Association, and Vanessa Balch, human development major.

 

 

 

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Panelists used an article in The Atlantic by Nicholas Carr titled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” as a jumping off point for the discussion. Carr describes a world where Google and other forms of Internet-related technology have rewired our brains, making us unable to concentrate or contemplate.

Jack of all trades
Balch said Carr’s article rang true to her.
 
“I find myself thinking the way a website functions – with pop-ups,” she said. “I think I’m starting to miss things. It makes me think of the phrase, ‘jack of all trades, master of none.’ ”
 
 
Changed thinking
McConnell, a graduate student in political science, said he read Carr’s article and thought, “Yes, absolutely.” He related a story about arriving at the Lewiston airport at midnight, only to remember he’d left his car there with an empty gas tank. Instead of heading toward the nearest thoroughfare, as he would have done pre-GPS, McConnell said he used his mobile device to search for a gas station and followed its directions to the outer reaches of south Clarkston.

“It certainly changed my way of thinking about how to find a gas station at one o’clock in the morning,” he said.

McConnell said he doubted Google or Internet technology would cause the end of civilization, but he did think it was worth considering what we lose when we become dependent on information technology. He drew a comparison to the changes wrought by industrial agriculture. Without the convenience of a grocery store, he said, he would go hungry.


Panelists (from left) Vanessa Balch,

Brandon Howard and Steven Kale

Declensionist literature

Kale was critical of Carr’s article, saying it falls very neatly into a genre of declensionist literature – reports of the decline of civilization that accompany the popular adoption of any transformative technology, from the Guttenberg press to steam trains to refrigerators.
 
“This is a story about technology that has been told over and over and over again,” he said. The article claims Google is changing the way people think, he said, but within the article the author admits there is no scientific research to support that claim.
 
“To me, (the Internet has) been a blessing,” he said. “It’s put a first class research library at my fingertips.” Kale said he believes the next big challenge is making reading online more comfortable and less distracting. Kindle and iPads are getting us closer to a solution, he said, but there’s still a ways to go.
 
 
No going back
Chida said there’s no going back, so we might as well go forward and master the new technology. As an instructor, she said, she believes it is part of her job to teach students that Google is a first step, but only a first step, in gathering information.

“Google is a tool, not a problem,” she said. “I think what makes us stupid is if we stop at the first answer.”

 
The next Under the Big Tent debate will focus on students and alcohol and is scheduled for Oct. 28.