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Is big reliance on internet, search engines making professionals lazy?

BUSINESS
By Peter Theuri | September 5th 2021

A couple talking and using digital tablet. [Getty Images]

Working midway through some of the most daunting procedures, Nyawira, a nurse at a health facility in Nyeri County consults Google for direction.

A quick search reminds her what to do. Understandably, Nyawira is uncertain she could perform as well as she does without the internet.

Her case is not isolated. Google, the ubiquitous, omniscient intellectual search engine or application saves a lot of professionals’ blushes, complementing their memory and offering answers whenever called upon.

So do other search engines such as Bing, Yahoo and Baidu.

The help is welcome. It is inarguably a good thing for humanity to have a source of information to fall back to.

Sometimes, with the freedom of people to dump any information they desire on the internet, an uncouth professional will land upon it and use the wrong information.

But oftentimes, Google is a worthwhile companion. The flipside of Google’s offering is the effect it has on one’s mental activity. Does Google make people lazy?

A 2015 research by the University of Waterloo showed that the internet does not only make people lazy; it impedes their ability to engage their mental faculties optimally.

General-knowledge questions

Professor Evan F. Risko, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo, led a study where the team asked about 100 participants a series of general-knowledge questions, such as naming the capital of France.

“Participants indicated if they knew the answer or not. For half of the study, participants had access to the Internet. They had to look up the answer in the case where they responded that they did not know the answer. In the other half of the study, participants did not have access to the Internet,” read the University of Waterloo report.

The team found that the people who had access to the web were about five per cent more likely to say they did not know the answer to the question.

“In some contexts, the people with access to the Internet reported feeling as though they knew less compared to the people without access,” the university noted.

“With the ubiquity of the Internet, we are almost constantly connected to swathe of information. And when that data is within reach, people seem less likely to rely on their knowledge,” said Prof Risko.

Technology is meant to make work easier. It is also meant to reduce the burden on the human brain, as well as help achieve results of greater accuracy.

However, the demerits come in with it, with more and more professionals abandoning their independent thinking to fall back to the internet.

The Digital 2021: Kenya report from DataReportal showed there were about 21.75 million Internet users in the country by January 2021.

Kenya, with an estimated population of 54.38 million of whom 28.2 per cent are in urban centres and 71.8 per cent in rural areas.

Least connected

The penetration is still considered low with Africa remaining one of the least connected regions in the world.

In 2020, research company Statista showed the global revenue of Google to be $181.69 billion (Sh20 trillion) - a jump from 2019’s $160.74 billion (Sh17 trillion).

As would be expected, the revenue has increased tremendously from a mere $0.4 billion (Sh40.3 billion) in revenues for Google in 2002.

Daniel Mbugua, a public relations and communications specialist sees Google as a librarian running the catalogue. “I consult it to direct me to the latest and most relevant materials to read,” he says. “Imagine doing literature reviews without Google.”

He doesn’t think he could commit his mind more if he had to comb through tomes in libraries in pursuit of his favourite topics, and in the process expand his memory?

“Can you really depend on our libraries?” he asks. “What our generation does is copy and paste what they find on the internet instead of reading, analysing, critiquing and making personal conclusions.”

Mbugua says he does not necessarily fall back to Google for information on what he has an interest in.

“I am a football fanatic and will not use Google time and again to tell me when Chelsea was founded. I already know much about Chelsea because it is a topic of interest to me,” he says, admitting that he may have to take a quick search to see how old a musician is because little interest in that topic means he does not retain such information in his brain.

Winfred Njoki, a veterinary doctor, admits that some of the things she Googles are those she could easily remember but is not assured of a quick reference.

“If Google and other search engines were not there, I would think harder and would not forget some things, but after I have looked something that I had forgotten up, I do not forget a second time,” she says in her defence.

Pauline Mureithi, a media intern admits Google has made her lazier. “I cannot use my brain,” she says.

“For everything, I turn to Google. I can write a good essay, but now I am asking Google to help me and give me ideas.”

Data analyst 

Paul Thenya, a geospatial data analyst in Nairobi, says he never takes time to remember the small processes of work that Google can help with.

“It is almost like autocorrect. You just have to keep a vague idea of what the destination looks like and Google will point you in the right direction,” he says.

Samuel Waithanji, a tutor, says he only uses the internet when he does not have a book at his disposal.

But Joyce Wanjiru, a graduate teacher, says the damage that can be associated with the coming of Google is the same as can be traced to the calculator.

Allowed for use in Mathematics from the secondary school level in Kenya, the calculator is infamous for making intellectuals dependent on it for even the smallest problems, such as single-digit additions.

A joke on social media goes that primary school pupils who have been weaned on counting using maize, beans and sticks and have graduated to mustering addition and do better than graduates when it comes to mental calculation.

Having developed a dependency on the calculator, the students at advanced levels show little trust in their abilities to independently add, subtract, multiply or divide numbers.

Many professionals know there are most likely several hits on every topic they need on Google.

This lessens the need to understand or memorise, crucial information. In the case where the internet fails, they are left hapless; unable to deliver.

Can we live without the internet? Is it making us lazier?

This should probably be one of the hottest debates of our time.

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