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Generation Google: FSU professor asks if the search engine era makes us 'stupid'

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Published: Feb. 7, 2020 at 2:16 PM EST
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By: Jacob Murphey | WCTV Eyewitness News

February 7, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – Google celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018. The massive search engine based empire is a thread woven into every aspect of our society. It seems the internet's biggest advantages and drawbacks can all be traced back to its colorful logo.

That thesis helps guide Florida State professor Paul Marty. He's the Associate Dean of Innovation within the School of Information.

"If you were born after 1998, you have never known a world without Google and the services it provides," Marty said.

A few years back, he started a class that asks the eye-catching question "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

It's a yes-or-no question on the surface, but Marty said the answer if actually far more complex.

"It's creating a world where everyday we trade old skills for new skills," he said. "We learn how to do new things. This is part of the human condition."

That trade off was the focus of

. Researchers found that most people can't remember facts as well as they used to, yet we know how to access information quicker than ever before.

But that may not hold true for everyone, especially those that began using Google in their retirement years.

Peter Piper is the go-to computer instructor at the Tallahassee Senior Center. He teaches courses on a whole spectrum of computer topics, but he said the internet, and fear of the unknown, is always top of mind.

"I think there's a certain amount of trepidation in using it, " Piper said.

For Piper's generation, Google and other internet technology bring a dramatic change to everyday life.

"When we had to find out the kind of information we now get through the internet, it was the encyclopedia, it was the local library," he said.

But not anymore.

When asked if online access to information is making people "stupid," the class of seniors laughed, but admitted it makes things just a bit "too easy."

On a recent morning on Florida State's campus, students were fronting short presentations for Marty's Google class. The topics ranged from click-bait articles to phone scams.

One student, Melanie Bynum, said she wants to go into cyber security after graduation.

"The internet does make it easy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing," she said. "A lot of books and publications are uploaded online."

She said her generation doesn't know a world without the internet: "We definitely have a better understanding but we should do better about it because we can be lazy."

That laziness can be dangerous online.

"The burden has shifted us to be critical consumers of information," Marty said.

That means looking at several pages of search results, and being mindful of bias while asking 'Who is this benefiting?'

"If someone claims you're the only one benefiting, they're probably trying to scam you," Marty warned his class.

It seems the internet, and Google, can be a sea of pitfalls. But a careful navigator can make it a powerful tool.

"No, Google isn't making us stupid," Marty said. "It's not making us stupid at all."

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