April 2017
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FAST IS NOT ALWAYS A GOOD THING

Compared with most students in our class, my internet life started quiet late. In 2008, I went to college and was so excited to get my first laptop. I haven’t realized that a small thing happened at that time changed my life dramatically until reading and reflecting upon the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”. One day. I asked my roommate about a problem of my new laptop. she simply told me: “You should Google it. When others ask me a question, I often suggest them to search it online first.” Although I was a little upset because she didn’t offer to help, my subconscious mind adapted to her strategy so quickly. From then on, I seldom asked others a question if its “answer” can be found online. Also, whenever others ask me a question that I don’t know, I tend to suggest them to search on Google like my previous roommate.

Now, I am a third-year PhD student and the nine-year experience of online searching changes my learning habits a lot. I’m so addictive to Google search that whenever I meet a difficult question, the first thing comes to my mind is to search for an answer online. It is admitted that online searching makes our life much more convenient than before. However, information overload and distraction seem to make us stupid. For me, my brain usually prefers to look for an answer rather than solving the problem by itself.

According to the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel, our brain has dual processing systems. System 1 likes a “mindless” processor, which is fast and operates heuristically with little cognitive resources. System 2 uses a slow, analytical and deliberate process but requires more cognitive resources. Usually individuals will try to conserve cognitive resources by switching more processing from system 2 to system 1. I think this is what happened to me as well as many other students regarding online search. Indeed, it is quite convenient at the first glance. However, this habit may deplete cognitive resources and the ability to operate system 2 in the long run, since our system 1 dominates the brain more.

As a researcher on food and health. I wonder why convenient and effortless lifestyle is often not good for health. For example, why most convenient foods are unhealthy, and unhealthy foods are usually tastier than health foods? Why physical exercise is good for health but drains willpower? I think this may due to the fact that human evolution is too slow to keep path with the rapid changing environment. Physically, our body still adapts to live a heavy physical labor lifestyle with very limited foods, so our preferences of the energy-intense foods are written in genes. Likewise, our brain still adapts to the old time of low literacy levels, when information was so scarce. In this sense, the ability of filtering useful information from distractions has not been well-trained. As educators, it is our responsibility to help students adapt to learning from online searching and avoid its negative effects, such as lack of deep reading and thinking.  I believe this situation can change and we will grow from this process.

 

Reference

Nicholas Carr;? Is Google Making Us Stupid. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan, 2011.

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10 comments to FAST IS NOT ALWAYS A GOOD THING

  • Iris

    You know this too! I am so happy that you also think unhealthy foods taste better. I was beginning to think it was my mind, collaborating with my taste buds, to play pranks on me.
    I agree that indeed our minds are changing and processing things differently than it would have in the absence of online search. When I didn’t have access to the internet and had to do research solely on the knowledge from books, my mind was quick to absorb as much as I could from a book before I put it down. But now, I glimpse quickly through online articles, find what I need and write down the title of the article so I can come back to it again whenever I need it. I no longer make a big deal of absorbing all that I can from it before returning it to the library….

  • Vartan

    Daniel Kahneman’s book is an excellent reference. Since I am not an expert on cognitive issues, I imagine that there is a figure with y axis having the “optimal outcome”, the x “pace” and a concave curve. I hope this makes sense. I guess I took too many Micro courses.

  • I agree that Kahneman’s concept of “fast” and “slow” thinking is really helpful. Generally, I think any analytical framework that urges us to think about our thinking — how we process and information and how we learn — is a good one. I’d also suggest that the way we use google to quickly access information is not a bad thing at all. The availability of so much information at our fingertips has really changed our expectations for what we need to know and why. In this context, it’s less critical that we know something than that we know how to find it — how we search and how we filter for the most valuable material is what really matters.

  • Andrea

    I agree that human evolution is too slow to keep up with the rapid advancements in technology. I mentioned it in my post as well; I think this is why it might be important for us as a society to slow down a bit and reassess the environment and its possible consequences. Sometimes it feels like we’re in this never-ending race to make everything bigger, better, faster without taking a moment to consider all the implications or where this may lead. I also agree that educators might play an important role in restoring a healthy balance between the traditional forms of learning and the new forms afforded through technology.

  • Great post! Thank you for sharing! I enjoy reading your story that you realize you changed your way of seeking answers when you got your first computer. It is interesting to look back and see how we are so addicted to Google without realizing it. I don’t even know when I become so into Google. Google is a great addiction as for me through. However, there are so many other technology addictions that might have the negative impact on us, so we need to be more careful and aware of those.

  • Hanh

    Thank you for your post. When reading your post, I think about the time when teachers came to a classroom with their paper notebook and lectured with blackboard and chalk and now when classrooms are equipped with connected devices. Despite the changes in the classroom environment, there is one thing holding true for me. The knowledge staying with me is the one that I have to spend time and effort to understand it. The knowledge that is easy to come is also easy to go.

  • katherine phetxumphou

    I absolutely agree with your post. The internet or Google per say may be bad for our brains. Most of the semester, we had discussions on how the classroom does not require much critical thinking and that we must change that; however, having Google at our finger tips eliminates the need for us to critically think. We can simply search for the answer and then go about our day! But if you asked me, I wouldn’t trade Google for anything!

  • Daniel Kahneman is absolutely brilliant! This book discusses all of the cognitive processes we use in decision making, citing a vast array of studies, including much of Kahneman’s own work. I have run across dozens of other prominent books on behavioral economics/finance, psychology, and general business that rely heavily on the work of this giant of the field. The book is well-written, meticulously researched, and thoroughly enjoyable to read.

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