How Search Engines Make Us Mentally Lazy

“Just Googling it” may do more harm than we think.

In an eye-opening piece on Quartz titled “Googling gives us answers — but deprives us of intelligence,” writer Ted Hunt explores the darker side of search engines, specifically the way they affect our intellectual abilities.

The idea he points to, the “Google Effect,” isn’t new, but it’s worth revisiting. In 2011, researchers from Columbia University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard teamed up to study how having so much information readily available to us via the internet affects our memory. The Google Effect refers, broadly, to the idea that we get mentally complacent as a result of knowing that we can easily look something up if we need to. When we know an answer is at our fingertips, we’ll remember how to retrieve that information (see: Google search) but not how to recall the information on our own.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

This means “we quickly become less vigilant and increasingly passive in our judgement of the world around us,” Hunt writes. Knowing everything is readily available with a quick search makes us less reliant on our own thoughts and knowledge and cuts us off from the wisdom of others, too. In a nutshell, we’re mentally lazy not just about storing information for ourselves, but we’re also less likely to ask our friends or family for answers.

While we can’t change the search system all at once, you can try looking something up in a place other than the internet before you turn to a search engine. Experiment with using an “old fashioned” technique like asking a friend, using an encyclopedia or heading to the library.

Read Hunt’s entire piece here.