Has Google Become the New Magic 8-Ball?

Food, flower, fact, need to know, ask Google, Yahoo, Ask, Alta Vista or any one of a number of search engines. Actually, as you are aware, you don’t actually ask the search engine, you type your search term into a space provided for it. I can imagine, however, that in the not too distant future you will be able to verbally ask your PC, laptop, tablet or smart phone a question and it will display an answer on its monitor.

We’ve had search engines quite a while now. They provide a function which, in today’s world, we would find hard to do without. But yes Virginia, once upon a time there were no search engines. When we wanted information we walked to a place called a library and looked up what we needed using something called a card catalog.

Those of us who were lucky enough had families who owned things called encyclopedias. We usually used that collection of books to look things up first, prior to going to the library. Alright, I am expressing some sarcasm here, but I’ve come by it honestly. Sometimes, we fail to appreciate how far we have come in a short time, in this thing called the information age.

With the march of information technology, we have been gaining instant access, just about anywhere, to seemingly limitless amounts of information. But, we are losing something more important. I refer, my friends, to the ability to think critically. What does it profit a person if he gains all the information in the world and loses his ability to use it wisely in the process?

Have you ever been to a store selling products with an emblem, stamp or sticker which says, “As seen on TV!”? Those products have been marketed on television prior to being in the store. The tag pointing out that the item was on television is there to lend legitimacy to the product itself, not to remind folks they could buy it on television instead.

This being on TV thing happens with people too. A person who does not work on television ends up on the news, on a person-on-the-street-interview, that type of thing and immediately alerts their family and friends, “I was on television.” Perhaps, that’s the allure that reality programming offers. “Hey that could be me up there.”

As a society we have, for decades, given something or someone who has been on television more credence than someone or something that has not. With television we often suspend our critical reasoning and just accept that something was on the tube – or today the monitor, panel, etc. – so it must be good.

We have done the same type of thing with newspapers. “Oh, it’s true. I read it in the newspaper.”

We have had the Internet available to us, as a streaming source of information, for a good while now. And it seems that many of us deal with information from the Internet the way we treat information we get from television, newspapers, radio etc. Except, we treat it that way cubed.

“No, No, No. Really, it’s true. I promise you! I read it on the Internet.”

How does this work? We have a need. We have a question. We want answers. We go to a search engine. We enter a search term. Voila! We get an answer. Thousands of websites come up offering us potential answers to our question. Being the thorough folks we are, we sometimes make our way to the second page of links to websites, before going to one we believe has the answer.

We go to a website. We get our answer. Ah, life is now complete. But wait a minute. Did we check the website we got the information from? If the author of the article professed some expertise, did we look to see if he or she listed any credentials? Did we check their credentials elsewhere? Did we check the article we found by going to other sources? Did we read with a willing suspension of disbelief or were our minds fully engaged, weighing what we read?

I think many of us, myself included, have at times used an Internet search engine like a Magic 8 Ball. You know what it is. It looks like an 8 ball from the game of pool. It has a small window on it. You ask a question, turn it over and it gives you an answer. If only life were that simple. But hey, it’s a toy.

Search engines are terrific things. It is up to us to filter information and think critically about the information we link to and look at. Then again, I never owned one of those Magic 8 Balls. Maybe I should buy one. I know; I’ll go ask Google.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You can reach me with your questions and comments at Jay@CYinterview.com Like today’s column? Check back frequently.