The Google age

What do you do if you want to know the birth date of Abraham Lincoln? You most likely google it. A few seconds later you know the answer and a lot more about the president. But a mere fifteen years ago, we looked it up at a library or perhaps in a dusty encyclopedia book if we had one nearby.

It has been said that the years pass faster the older you get. On the other hand, there is so many things to do these days. I don’t think that many people said “get a life” 30 years ago, in the same way they do today. As Douglas Coupland wrote in 1995, “In the information dark ages, before 1976, relationships and television were the only forms of entertainment available”. And even 15 years later he’s got a point. During these 30 years we’ve seen the coming of the cell phone, cable TV, VHS, CD, DVD, computer games… And of course the greatest time killer of them all: Internet.

Google is probably the most visited web site ever made and every minute there are 700 000 search queries being made on Google. Suddenly we have a society of abundance, featuring a multitasking lifestyle filled with distractions. The abundance is managed by Google, but about the latter? Is this affecting us in a negative way?

In my opinion it can impair our ability to create sophisticated thoughts and ideas. It is also shortening our attention span. Last year Douglas Coupland wrote A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years. One of the points is “In the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness”. And I believe that’s true. The “Facebook mindset” is definitely here to stay, even when Facebook as a site will eventually perish.

I read a great article in 2008, Is Google Making Us Stupid. It’s quite long but well worth it. It describes the changes many of us (I’m one of them) are feeling regarding our reading process.

“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing.” [...] “I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet.”
– Nicholas Carr, The Atlantic

Regardless of all this, I’m still convinced that this is a golden age of discoveries and wonder, and I feel privileged to live in these exciting days.

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