Saturday, November 21, 2009

Search Engine Syntax

All pervasive, at least on the internet, the Search Engine has begun shaping the way we think. Search engines are special websites that act like indexes for the world wide web, and the first place most people go when looking for information on a specific topic. But does this mean that they're shaping our thinking?

To get what you're looking for with a search engine, it helps to have the end in mind. If you're looking for a list of famous baseball players, type in "'Babe Ruth' 'Hank Aaron' 'Joe Dimaggio' and 'famous baseball players' list". It's bound to give you at least those three, and is probably much closer to the result you wanted in the first place. And this is only one way that our thinking has to adjust to communicate with machines.

In his Atlantic Monthly article "Is Google Making Us Stupid", Nicholas Carr describes several ways that the internet affects our thinking. There is a chance that repeated interfacing with 'Google', trying to get an answer, creates neural pathways specific to that search-engine. The amount of available information, alone, makes us dependent on a search engine to filter through it for us.

Having the ability to use Google isn't the end-all-be-all of operating on the internet. A majority of web content is inaccessible by Google. The ability to adapt to new ways of thinking is enhanced by using that ability, and NOT falling into a comfortable routine of reading. One research summary points out that we're developing parallel thinking skills and perhaps losing our talent for sequential thinking skills.

On the other hand, McLuhan's book "The Medium is the Massage" (1967) points out that sequential thinking is due to sequential writing, and that the parallel www makes us think verbally again. (Here's a really annoying video that summarizes much of that book.) The change is happening, and it will affect us.

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