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The Google generation is illiterate

That’s the briefest summary of a very interesting report from University College London. A press release puts it this way:

A new study overturns the common assumption that the ‘Google Generation’ – youngsters born or brought up in the Internet age – is the most web-literate. The first ever virtual longitudinal study carried out by the CIBER research team at University College London claims that, although young people demonstrate an apparent ease and familiarity with computers, they rely heavily on search engines, view rather than read and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the web.

Very interesting, and alarming. But it’s important to keep the scope in mind: This report is looking at the Internet as a library. Good scope but not the only one. [Tags: ]

10 Responses to “The Google generation is illiterate”

  1. I am not surprised by their inability to do a critical analysis. This is a skill that generally needs to be taught and I found missing in many physician-trainees (ie. Medical Residents and medical students) in the past. Anything that is written on paper is often taken to be true and this seems to be what happens to what is presented on many web sites. The presence on paper or on a screen generates an aura of legitimacy and truth. I wish the young people, and us older ones, would think more critically.

  2. In an education seminar I attended year before last, the speaker demonstrated on a live internet connection the Google results of a search for “Martin Luther King”. The results then listed this site:
    #1; it is now #3. Note the last link on the page; as he put it, they (the disinformation netizens) know how to “game” the system. And anyone not knowing otherwise would assume, from the name and URL, this is a legitimate history. If the visitors are not discriminating, their homework is gonna generate an interesting reaction!

    How many people, even those of us net literate, do a whois on every site we visit? Most web users don’t care; gimme what I want now. And for free. With eyecandy. Wikipedia is the truth.

    I try to sprinkle my websites and blogs with illustrations (and apologize when I can’t) and credits for authentication. Most Iway users want an equal mix of information and entertainment. And, unless the potential visitor is likely to be of above average intelligence and education as well as geeky, don’t get too far above a 9th grade education level.

    This list and many others do not cater to the hoi polloi but have high expectations of their “audience”. Is that elitist? In spite of my egalitarian leanings, I say yes, it is and should be. The lowest common denominator is no way to run a country/village/world; if we wanted less, we’d elect a Texan for US President who can barely speak English. Oh, never mind.

    My point is that WE, the creators of/on the Iway have an opportunity to grab those unanalytic surfers by the scruff of their brain stems and learn ’em some critical thinking. By either illustration or disillusion (making what they think they know into mush). Using movies, not PowerPoints. Or ‘toons.

  3. As I wrote here, “There’s an old adage: seek and ye shall find. In the research game, this often means, ye shall find that which ye seek. Even those with admirable and well-honed research skills like those who conducted the study on behalf of the British Library and University College missed the larger context within which this question of understanding the world makes sense. An education system that teaches today’s youth (and taught yesteryear’s youth, as well) that finding a “right answer” and moving on to the next question is entirely culpable in fostering poor research and contextualizing skills, even among otherwise capable, professional researchers.

  4. In response to both Mark and (Related) Andy, the power of the searchable web does amplify one common inclination: the desire to find something published that confirms one’s initial intuition. I frequently encounter students who assess their research as “useful” if it confirms what they want to find, and “futile” if it doesn’t; some even criticize the library for not having anything that would support their desired premise.

    As Andy points out, this is something that just reading (online or in books) doesn’t remedy. It takes an interaction of one’s capacity (some people take to critical reasoning more readily than others) and exemplification and instruction (plenty of people who aren’t disposed to take on criticism will do so if they’re guided and encouraged by a skillful practitioner).

    The sky isn’t falling, but the Web does make available a greater range of material, making it easier for student researchers to find what they’re looking for.

  5. […] The Google generation is illiterate […]

  6. I’m not sure that we can claim the Googlers are illiterate — they just have a different technique for remembering stuff (like asking someone older the same thing over and over). Many of them think that critical analysis means you have to comment on the author’s ignorance or talk about his parents.

    But they are the future . . . it was the younger generation who were the early adopters in this recent trend toward social engagement. They sought (and found) face-to-face and virtual relationships based on shared interests, thrived on using just-in-time communication methods (like short messages on phone or instant messaging interfaces in lieu of email), and enjoyed connecting to people they met through friends and acquaintances to create, collect, and share content and information.

    As these young early adopters move to the workforce, they will bring their expectations with them, and will demand access to the building blocks used to construct their lives thus far.

    What do you think?

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  8. […] to a report from University College London, the “Google generation” is illiterate: “although young people demonstrate an […]

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