I had an interesting discussion with Josh Fraser tonight during which a frightening proposition came up: how would your life be impacted if Google went away tomorrow? Now before you blow me off and say “I’d just use Yahoo!”, I’d like to encourage you to think about it in the broader sense of: what if we didn’t have a nice search interface to the internet?
It’s hard for me to imagine such a world, but it would definitely impact my life. I use Google dozens of times a day to look up functions, answer questions, and even spellcheck words I’m not sure about. It allows me to not have to keep reference books at my desk or keep a long list of bookmarks of sites with helpful tables of code. I even use Google as my calculator occasionally.
Often many people of the generation before me look at my generation’s dependence on the internet at large (and Google in particular) as a sign of the diminishing intellect among our youth. I couldn’t disagree with this notion more, however. The internet is a tool that frees our brains from having to memorize mindless trivia, remember hundreds of rarely used functions, and provides a seamless interface to a huge pool of knowledge. This allows us to become even more specialized in our thinking and spend more of our brain cycles solving problems as opposed to memorizing data or doing research. Not to say that we don’t still do research, but the process has just been immensely simplified.
I think of the internet as a tool…a base of knowledge “in the cloud” that is at my fingertips and frees my mind from having to remember some of the more rarely used bits that people of previous generations might’ve kept in their heads. Does this make us stupider? I think not, but I’m sure there are those out there that will disagree. The question still remains, though, how has the internet’s depth of knowledge and simplistic search interface impacted your life? And how would it impact it if it were suddenly gone?