Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Just Google It

Posted: October 26, 2016 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

A few weeks ago, my colleagues and I were delighted to see a “Q & A: Student Discussion Panel” listed on our meeting agenda. Little known secret about teachers: we adore students. Students are the reason we do everything; we long to hear candid feedback from our target audience. just-google-1-516x300

At one point in the Q & A, a wonderful and ambitious student said, “We don’t even need to text books. Anything we need to know, we can just Google it.”

There was some laughter in the crowd, some incredulity, too.

I’m no fan of over-priced textbooks. In fact, members of my Liberal Arts department and I work to eliminate textbooks whenever possible, instructing students to use the University’s copious (and costly) library resources instead.  Nonetheless, the idea that Google could replace all book learning naturally upset my inner librarian and bibliophile.

A week later, I was in my HUM 310, a truly tremendous course in Contemporary Comparative World Literature, teaching “The Guest,” a short story by the brilliant Albert Camus.  After we discussed the story, I introduced my students to existentialism, often associated with Camus’ work, and a significant post-WW II philosophy that still resonates over 75 years later.

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If you also think this is hilarious, you might be a professor.

My students gamely struggled to even pronounce existentialism as I covered the basic precepts. Suddenly I was able to identify why I don’t think students can “Just Google” what they want or need to know. The truth is, many times we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t even know where to begin. They had never heard of existentialism; why would they ever ask Google about something of which they are completely ignorant?

In the same class, I shared an incredible project completed by an astounding woman, Ann Morgan, who decided to address the gaps in her knowledge base in an extraordinary way: by reading a book from every country in the world. In her talk, she explains difficulties she encountered as she sought to find books from each country to read in translation, and her complete unfamiliarity with leading authors in countries she’d never visited. Naturally, the Internet (and Google) helped make her amazing project possible, now allowing her to share her remarkable experience.  However, it also proves we need more, deeper knowledge than mere “fun facts” can provide.

While I’m glad my students believe that every seed of human knowledge is within reach, I’m certain that book-length texts (whether read in print or online) more fully enrich the foundation of our understanding, enabling natural curiosity to bloom and grow and thrive.

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It’s always a good time to hit the books!

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Thesis: Ignorance is bliss.

Antithesis: Knowledge is power.

Disturbing Synthesis: A little knowledge and a lot of ignorance is damn frightening.

The first two statements are cliches..  But, as with all cliches, there is a great deal of truth to them. What I am finding is that the third statement, though not as pithy or memorable, is no less true.  It seems like everywhere in America today, this disturbing synthesis is prevalent. The latest example is popular, and popularly misguided reactions to the ebola outbreak.

Those who are completely ignorant of ebola are not necessarily problematic. Approach them on the street and ask about the disease, and you may get blank stares and a shrug of the shoulders.  They have no worries; no concerns; no 291933-ebola-virusknowledge.  Honestly, the vast majority of Americans will never be affected by ebola, and so is it really surprising that our notoriously narcissistic selves may simply say, ‘who cares’?  Many of the ignorant may be callous, a great deal may be apathetic, but they are not dangerous.

The antithesis of this state is knowledge. An understanding of how the disease transmits, what it does to those affected, and how likely it is to spread is necessary. A realization that help should be sent to Africa is nobly knowledgeable.  Those with knowledge appreciate that there are much greater worries in this world than the highly unlikely chance of catching ebola. Knowledge, and its offspring perspective, allows an American to realize the food we put in our mouths poses a much greater threat to our health than any hemorrhagic fever.  Nonetheless, the informed American appreciates the power, and horror of disease, and the necessity of containment.  In our globalized age, a disease affecting Africa may not reach us personally, but the social revolutions, economic catastrophes, and military strife that may come as a result of the disease very well could.  Being an isolationist is not an option when it comes to fighting microbes.  Paradoxically, being self-centered should lead to a concern for the other.

It is the last, the synthesis, that should keep us up at night; it is the synthesis that must be fought against.  The happy medium between knowledge and ignorance is not all that happy, but it is disturbingly easy to come by.  Google, 24 hours news, and social media are the pushers of spin, sensationalism, conspiracies and half-truths.  The American people are the addicts.

Ebola-is-realIn a perfect world, Google allows us to find ‘truth’ in a simple easily structured search format. If you ‘google’ ebola, you will get articles from the WHO, the CDC, and the BBC.  But, accidently put an ‘h’ after ebola, and the logarithm used by the website offers you the opportunity to search ‘Ebola Hoax’.  Search that, and you start to fall down the rabbit hole.

I got a glimpse of this the other day. Riding home on the train, four adults, seemingly sane, began to discuss ebola.  There were the typical concerns and questions.  Some of the claims made were incorrect; the disease has not killed 30,000 in Africa, even though this train rider stated it was fact.  But soon things got out of hand.  One of the men shouted that ebola was actually created by the government; he stated that it was categorically true that ebola has been patented and that the government is controlling the disease.  How did he propose to prove this shocking revelation? He said to his friend, ‘give me your phone, and let me ‘Google’ it. I’ll show you!’

The tools for finding information are there for us to use.  They have the capability to provide anyone and everyone with the power of knowledge. Absolute ignorance is now, more often than not, a choice.  The problem seems to be that most people choose to collect only snippets of knowledge.  A ’30 second’ blurb here; a meme there.  Throw in a facebook status posted by a friend with some strange conspiratorial theories, and the synthesis of ignorance and knowledge is off to the races.  Though sprinting away from ignorance, we’re too often stopping far short of knowledge.