CollegeInfoGeek recently posted an article called The Internet Is Making Your Brain Lazy. It talks about how we can get the answers to anything in mere moments thanks to Google and that real research is becoming a thing of the past. “The result, according to a 2011 paper published in Science, is that you begin to view the internet as an extension of your memory.”
I shared this article with my best friend. Another friend of ours has been in group chats with us when we suddenly start discussing odd things like the melting point of titanium. Yes, we’re nerds like that. Our friend commented once that she feels smarter just listening to us. Anyway we had a short conversation about the article and we discussed critical thinking skills and how we still use them. I mean, I have to use mine, as a college student, but that’s not really the point.
First I complained that I’ve had to rely on Google to get information, as I’ve not been allowed in a library since March when the pandemic lock down started. It was hell trying to do research for some of my final papers without access to the university library.
The reality is I have never thought about how I use my critical thinking skills until now. As far back as I can remember I have had to look things up, be it in the dictionary, an encyclopedia, and then later the internet. I was an early reader and while may would say that is a good thing, there is a problem with it. If you are reading Doctor Seuss at 3 and then at 10 you might just be reading reading Ursula K Le Guin while everyone else is reading A Wrinkle in Time. The problem is, there just aren’t books written on a 10 year old’s understanding level that challenges their reading. This means that while comprehending what you read doesn’t necessarily understand what you read. That sound contradictory but consider writing a book report or taking a reading test. While you maybe able to related what happened in the story coherently or answer questions about the book, that doesn’t mean you understand concepts that might be talked about. say you are reading science fiction, you may not know how lightspeed is supposed to work because you haven’t yet learned about the speed of light. If it’s a really cool book, and you are ten years old, and you really want to know what all these science-y things are that are being referenced, you look them up. Let’s just say I have awesome research skills. I’ve been looking up things as long as I can remember because my reading ability and comprehension were well beyond my what is considered “appropriate age knowledge”.
This is always going to be a problem. When you read well above you age/grade you go through books faster because you don’t have to stop and think about what you are reading. You don’t run into new words that you might have to look up. If something is too easy to read you get bored. That is a trap in itself because reading becomes boring then you don’t do it. I was lucky that I had a great-grandmother that always gave me books. She was always giving me science fiction written by women such as Ursula K Le Guin, Andre Norton, and Mercedes Lackey. I had authors that I could look for in the library. At 13 I started my horror book phase. This is when I learned it was best not to loan my books out to friends because their mothers would get mad.
As an adult I still go through books quickly. Every one of my books for my university literature classes were read in less than day. More than once I told my best friend, “I need to read this book tonight for class tomorrow.” I could feel the kind of stress that he would be under as I said that and I would continue,”It’s only 329 pages. I got this.” Apparently, this isn’t normal. I never really thought about how odd I must be to most people.
Here’s the thing. The books that stay with me are the ones that make me think. They are the ones that challenge me. As I was reading The Colour Purple and Their Eyes Were Watching God I realized that slaves learned about abuse from their white masters. When the slaves were freed they were unable to acclimate to society well because they learned from an early age that you abuse someone to control them. This really messed with me in ways I don’t have the words to describe and I questioned everything that I had learned about American History from the public school system. It sent me down a research rabbit hole.
As my friend and I were discussing, the things he and I end up looking up are things that you have to dig to find the answers. I asked him what “normal people” look up. He doesn’t know either.