Thursday, July 26, 2007

Google

Is Google making us stupid? That's the claim of Gideon Haigh's new article in the Austrailian Monthly magazine, who says

The speed with which Google has attained ubiquity, however, is as problematic as it is intoxicating. Perhaps no innovation has been assimilated so wholly, and with so little reflection on how it may change us – as, inevitably, it will. For technological change, the sociologist Neil Postman remarked, is neither additive nor subtractive, but ecological: “One significant change generates total change. If you remove the caterpillars from a given environment, you are not left with the same environment minus caterpillars: you have a new environment, and you have reconstituted the conditions of survival.” Google’s impact on the biodiversity of the information ecosystem is not something we will ‘find on Google’, but it needs consideration – fast.
The problem, says Haigh, is that Google is self-recursive, re-finding the popular articles and overlooking the less well known:
In its speed, precision and reliability, Google is a marvel. But it is also deceptively limited, being essentially self-reinforcing: the same sites get visited, like martinlutherking.org, because the same sites get visited, our exploratory clicks like a never-ending episode of ‘Information Idol’. By bestowing its highest commendation on sites that are most popular, moreover, Google tends to leave huge vistas of the web unexplored. The so-called ‘dark web’, seldom accessed because it seldom is, but accounting for perhaps 80% of web content, includes probably its most useful material: tens of thousands of content-rich databases maintained by universities, libraries, associations, businesses, and government agencies. Google won’t get you there.
In our reliance on Google, we should rethink this. Yet, what alternatives are there? I never use Yahoo or Alta Vista to search any more.