Today Google has transformed the internet connected world. The Google search engine is so efficient in producing results that it can be rather addictive. If you want to know anything about something new, you would simply “Google it”. Generally, you would get the answers to your query or get some hints in the first 5 pages of the search results. The challenge then is to find the information that is most credible. But that’s not Google’s problem. You ask for information, and you get it! Today, it is difficult to imagine life without Google search
Most of us use the power of Google search engine at its lowest level. We just type the text string in the search box and try combinations. While “how to search” is generally intuitive, some have mastered advanced use of the search operators in Google and are amazingly good at digging out the otherwise “hidden” information. These people are professional information miners.
I ask all shortlisted applicants to my company Environmental Management Centre LLP (EMC) to write a few pages on a question as an assignment. I do this as I am interested to know the analytical and writing capability of the applicant. After receiving the assignment, I ask someone in my office to check for plagiarism using a software. In many instances, we find that the extent of plagiarism is high, crossing even 40% as the text is mostly sourced from the internet and cut pasted. This is rather disappointing. In some cases however, you do see much lower level of plagiarism, indicating that the applicant has written his/her own text. While that is a great sign, you see very few candidates who not only write well and original but also have a substance! That’s what I keep looking for.
Perhaps, students during their academic days depend too much on Google “driven” outputs. Either the academic pressures are high or the Google search seems to provide the easy way out or the Professors do not to do a rigorous check on the submissions for plagiarism. Many universities have started requirement that the assignments must be pass through a plagiarism engine and only those submissions where the percent plagiarism is less than a threshold (usually 20%) are accepted for evaluation.
You would observe that Google is also heavily used in research-based consulting projects. These reports do not generally undergo a plagiarism check. Clipping the text from various sources is however an art and not everybody is good at this special skill. These smart consultants write the “bridging paragraphs” so well that the reading experience is smooth and not a roller-coaster ride. In many instances, the original reference is not cited, that is something unethical. Unfortunately, such smarties are the most sought for consultants. This skill reminds me of people who make “design quilts” that are made from various cut pieces of cloth.
I asked my Professor friend about the influence of Google search engine on writing of student assignments, thesis, consulting reports etc.
Professor lit his cigar. He looked serious.
He said “Dr Modak, I am not bothered about clipping of the text. This weakness can be addressed using rigorous software tools on plagiarism. We can also ensure that all the material sourced is acknowledged. What I am more worried about is the loss in the ability of independent thinking and writing. To me that is critical, as people in the next generation will depend more and more on the “borrowed” information that is easily searchable and won’t be able to write on their own ”
I disagreed with Professor. I thought that it is important to know first what exists and then identify the gaps to decide where does one need to investigate and innovate. It’s like the “literature review”. Here, the Google engine will have a major role to play. If this is not done as a first step then you could find that the “your innovation” through “independent thinking” may already exist and practiced or even discarded as found to be not so effective or sustainable, later. So, you waste your time for nothing.
But Professor had a reverse argument. He said that these conventional approaches can create a bias and in fact put blinkers to the thought process. “Don’t slave yourself to Google!” He argued. “First learn to think free, experience the thought creation process and assess your own potential towards independent thinking. Having established your idea or thoughts, you can then go the world of Google and check”. I partially agreed.
I remembered when I took classes in one of the smart classrooms at a university in Singapore, the students were sitting in the class with their laptops. As I was explaining the intricacies of the subject of environmental impact assessment (EIA), these students would instantly google the “keywords” in my talk and look into the screen to know more. Some would even download the PDFs of publications that they found to be “related” to what I was saying. So the classroom had internet filled air with Google aroma.
In one of the lecture breaks, one Chinese student walked across to me. She looked like one of the serious studious types and her thick spectacles gave me a feeling that she was a voracious Google search engine user.
“Dr Modak, I have been closely following your lectures on EIA. I however noticed that I could not find an exact source of your teaching on Google – am I missing something?”. She was probably looking for sources that I had used to develop and articulate my lecturers – the main stem of the tree.
I smiled and explained to her that my understanding of EIA was “independent” as it evolved from my own practice experience. To appreciate the full picture however she could look at the related resources on Google – it was just like the branches and leaves of the tree.
Professor liked my story. He said “ Dr Modak sure – one needs both – your own independent thinking and of course supporting documents/experience that you may derive from Google search. As you do this engagement with what already exists, you may revisit your initial independent thoughts and be open to adapt or modify. But the first independent thinking is important i.e., your ownership”
I remembered some of the brainstorming workshops I conducted. The first day of the workshop was always in the absence of Google search engine and the second day pf the workshop was followed with a gap after giving access to Google. The results of such workshops were extraordinary.
Other day, I met a friend after a long time who fasts on every Tuesday in the name of Lord Ganesha. On Tuesdays, he will not eat the whole day and break his fast only at the time of dinner. He told me that there is now one more day that he fasts. I got curious. When I asked him, he said this fast is of a different kind. He observes this fast on Sundays.
“What is this fast about my friend?” I couldn’t stop asking
“Oh, Prasad, I don’t connect to Internet on Sundays. It’s actually a fast for me on avoiding use of Google search engine. On Sundays I essentially give room to my mind. It keeps my mind clean. In fact, Prasad, I tend to be a bit more productive on Sundays.” He replied
Aha! I said to myself “No wonder my friend posts his blogs on Sunday nights”
Image sourced from https://thebridge.in/featured/intermittent-fasting-everything-need-to-know/
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Want to know which Day of the Week or Month does Google practice ‘Upavas’!
A thought stimulating article as always, Prasad.
One other challenge that we all face (like the challenge of independent thinking and analysis), is the challenge of ‘Observation’. I think we are increasingly constraining this ability too .
Fasting from all electronic gadgets, fossil fuel operated vehicle, for one day, was tried by me and it was a good experience!