Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LOVING AND HATING GOOGLE....The Washington Post has an interesting story about Google today that contains this interesting (and, I might add, completely unsourced) factoid:

The stacks of a university library can be a rather lonely place these days. Library circulation dropped about 20 percent at major universities in the first five years after Internet search engines became popular. For most students, Google is where all research begins (and, for the frat boys, ends).

I am constantly reminded of just how good and bad Google is. I can't count the number of times that I've located obscure information starting with nothing more than the vaguest wisp of a remembered phrase, which led to something that jogged my memory, which in turn led to something else, which in turn finally led to exactly what I was looking for. And for all that it's frustrating when I'm in the middle of one of these searches, they usually don't actually last more than a few minutes. It's remarkable.

On the other hand, without that initial wisp I never would have gotten anything. A decently broad general knowledge of events is still necessary in order to get much out of Google in the first place, and it's also necessary in order to filter all the crud out and figure out whether Google has led you to a reasonable site or a crackpot spider hole. In fact, one of the worst problems with Google, I think, is that it makes research too easy. You can quickly find obscure information (hooray!) and then make an idiot out of yourself by not doing a further bit of Googling in order to understand the context around that information (boo hiss!). Google is great for finding specific facts in short chunks, but lousy at providing larger context and meaning.

In a way, Google is an intellectual amplifier: it makes smart people smarter, but it also makes dumb people dumber, since a naive Google search can easily lead you to information that's actually less useful than knowing nothing. In other words, don't throw out your books quite yet.

Kevin Drum 3:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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