Let Me Google That For You

What is the most important skill a student will learn in school? Language and communication skills? Math, logic, and reasoning? Science and the process of inquiry? Appreciation for fine arts and music?

For my money, it seems like the single most important, and most lacking, skill amongst high school students is the ability to find answers.

Establishing baseline knowledge of subject areas is definitely important. Being able to synthesize information is crucial. But long after students forget when the Battle of the Bulge took place or what a dangling participle is, or even the formula for the circumference of a circle, they’re going to need to know how to find out answers.

Some of these might be simple answers – like finding directions to a meeting place, or remembering how to jump start a car battery (red on red, people)! But some of these might be rabbit holes, and teaching students how to navigate these rabbit holes seems to be more difficult than you’d think. To be fair, none of this is research, it’s all anecdote from my own experience working with students (and not just high school kids – sometimes adults are shockingly bad at this too).

But seriously? If you’re sitting in a resume writing workshop staring blankly at a computer screen because you don’t know what to do next, why not try reading the instructions on the top of the screen? Or perhaps if you don’t know when the admissions deadline for your first-choice college is, you should Google it?

One of my favorite websites is lmgtfy.com. It stands for “Let Me Google That For You.” And, while hilarious, I think it reflects a deeper shift in the way information is obtained in our culture. The reason that sites like that exist are to poke fun at people who haven’t yet adapted to an extraordinarily easy and pervasive mode of getting answers.

In the past hour, I have Googled the following:

  • average school counselor to student ratio in Utah
  • ideal school counselor to student ration in Utah
  • prices on Chanel bags
  • the Coanda effect
  • the meaning of life, the universe, and everything

And that’s just in the past hour. I looked up prices on Chanel bags because I was watching an episode of Bones on Netflix where the price of a Chanel bag came up. The Coanda effect was mentioned on a friend’s Facebook wall in response to a question of what to do for a science fair in 3rd grade. They aren’t particularly consequential things to look up answers to, but it took me less than 60 seconds to find these answers.

Fifteen years ago, had either of those questions occurred to me, I would have had to pause Netflix to go over to the bookshelf in my mom’s house, use the Encyclopedia Brittanica to look up an article on the Coanda effect, or drive to the nearest Chanel store (at least an hour away, and my mom would have had to drive me there) to inquire as to their prices. And they probably would have laughed at the kid peering over their counter. But today, I found both answers within 60 seconds.

This amazes me.

I am further amazed at how few of us value tools like this in day to day life. Basic research skills learned early on (like Googling) are the foundation for more complex research later on in life. Without basic research skills, I’m pretty sure that doing the research for my thesis would have taken me at least a year. I probably would be less competent in my job. And I would also have less trivia cluttering up my brain.

I don’t really have any kind of imperative prepared for this, but does anyone else find this to be true? Got a spelling question? Find it on m-w.com (Merriam Webster’s website). Not sure what a word on a street sign in Greece is? Translate it on Babelfish. (Granted, it won’t be a perfect translation, but it might be easier than finding someone to ask.) Can’t find the address of your first employer to list on your resume? Look up the business name on Google.

To get back to what I was saying earlier about a shift in the way we get information in our culture – self reliance is at the heart of this. Are you going to rely on other people to be present to give you answers all the time, or are you going to learn the skills to sift through information and find reasonable and accurate answers on your own?


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