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Is Google Making Us Dumb? 21% (and me) said Yes March 5, 2010

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A portion of the Pew Research Center’s project, “The Future of the Internet IV”, examines an article written by Nicholas Carr in the summer of 2008 entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (published in the Atlantic Monthly). The study asked respondents if they agreed with Carr, that human intelligence (measured by IQ) would not have increased and may have even decreased by 2020. Results were as follows (for totals): 76% did not agree with Carr, 21% did, and 2% did not respond. What is most interesting about this study is the lengthy comments that follow explaining their stance on human intelligence and how it will be affected by Internet information searching. Most discussion revolves around the issues we are well aware of–engaged reading has turned into skimming and jumping, what we used to have to remember we can always access, and (on the positive side) the number of resources available has exploded (although one could also start the debate on quality versus quantity).

Carr argues that our thinking is changing from a more strenuous method to a less vigorous one. He states that,”the ease of online searching and distractions of browsing through the web were possibly limiting his capacity to concentrate”. I see changes in my own thinking daily and have always believed this to be a product of information overload. Never one to have an attention problem, I too find myself unable to read an entire article, feeling the need to skim and move on. Many of Carr’s adversaries don’t see this as a negative thing. They believe that we are required to process information this way now

From hotdiggitydog's Flickr photostream

that we have so many sources available to us. While these objectors have a point, one has to ask where this will end? When will we max out? Information resources continue to proliferate and there has to come a point when we say ‘enough is enough’. If we spend all day skimming and comparing, when does the actual thinking and decision-making take place? Clearly, I agree with Carr and his small set of followers that Google (symbolically representing the Internet as a whole) will make us dumb.

Another argument that the commenters seem to miss is that knowledge and intelligence are not the same thing. While someone may have the most knowledge from browsing the Internet, this does not mean they can harness or process it in any useful way. However, you may take someone with limited knowledge and a lot of intelligence and teach them to do amazing things. True, an intelligent person with no knowledge cannot do much, but a person with a plethora of knowledge and no intelligence is just as useless. In conclusion, I would have to say that though “Google” will inevitably make us more knowledgeable,  it cannot make us think more clearly.

Google’s Chance at Redemption: Liquid Galaxy February 17, 2010

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With all the recent clamor over Google’s invasion of privacy through the launching of Google Buzz, and the short-lived commotion over Google Wave, it’s hard to remember that Google still is one of the most innovative information providers in existence. American Libraries (the American Library Association’s magazine) did a post this last Friday on Google’s newest experiment -Google Liquid Galaxy. In the following demonstration “eight separate computers are running [this], and it’s being flown by a PS3 SixAxis controller” (American Libraries). Less than an hour ago a group of librarians and I were gushing over the new atlas from National Geographic, but this video has me wondering if paper atlases haven’t finally reached obsolescence.

Chinese Censorship Visualized February 12, 2010

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Google’s fall out with China that dominated headlines in mid-January was a reminder to everyone that access to information is an important part of democracy and a free society. Google’s agreement, to block certain sites within China, is a hallmark in our technologically-dependent world and should not go without discussion.  This amazing infographic from Informationisbeautiful.net displays the keywords and websites blocked in China. Some of the things that stuck out to me were: nhl.com, YouTube, democracy.com, digg.com –I mean, what are these people doing at work? Being productive? All kidding aside, this graphic is an important reminder as to why we should continually fight for free and open access to information.

Check out the annotated version on the Guardian datablog here.

A Candid Convo with the Infomavens on Google Buzz February 11, 2010

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Okay, so I am totally taking the easy way out with my post today and just posting the g-chat Dataduchess and I just had about Google Buzz. It somehow seems appropriate. I also wanted to post this because I get a little sick and tired of hearing about how “Millennials” use technology. It makes me feel like a lab rat or some newly discovered species in the depths of the ocean. So – this is how some Millennials use technology:

From computerworld.com

Dataduchess: Hey – what do you think of Google Buzz?
Pupfiction: OMG – I was really about to chat you the same thing.
I really like the layout. I just don’t like having to update another thing.
Dataduchess: I don’t like it so far – but the only messages I’ve seen are millions of comments on Mashable’s posts.
Pupfiction: I don’t really understand what the notifications are about.
Ohhh – do you have it hooked to Twitter or your RSS?
I just have my friends so far, which is like 20 people.
Dataduchess: I like all this social media stuff, but I don’t want another place to update – I’m already way overloaded and over stimulated.
It’s mostly just my friends from my gchat addresses – but yesterday Mashable posted a link so you could follow them, and I did it, not really understanding what it would look like (since I didn’t actually have the function yet).
Pupfiction: Oh no!
Dataduchess: So today, it was unveiled, and all I had was 17 posts by Pete Cashmore, with hundreds of comments on each; overwhelming for a start!
Pupfiction: It’s like Facebook only you are forced to see and know about all the comments.
Dataduchess: Yeah – that’s how it seems.
Pupfiction: Whereas you could get the post without the comments in Twitter.
A bunch of my friends have posted pics and I really like the format for that.
Dataduchess: I don’t know, I’m willing to give it a chance, but it really doesn’t seem to add to the Google experience, and it just overlaps the bad parts of Twitter and FB.
Pupfiction: And what happened to Wave?
Are people using that or is that over?
Dataduchess: idk – I haven’t opened that in weeks.
I don’t think it caught on.
Buzz seems to replace that too.
Pupfiction: So much hype for nothing.
Dataduchess: I think “invite only” puts a damper on things.
Pupfiction: And there was too much of a learning curve.
It was too complicated.
I feel compelled to use Buzz because my friends are.
Dataduchess: Haha, you’re such a follower.
Are they friends who also use FB and Twitter, or are they starting from scratch with Buzz?
Pupfiction: They use FB and a one uses Twitter – you know – our head of advertising – dirtyern12.
A lot of my friends still don’t “get” Twitter.
Dataduchess: Yeah, I know very few people who “get” Twitter.
Every time I tell anyone something I heard, they’re like “oh, where did you hear that?” and I feel dumb saying, “uh, Twitter.”

What do you think about Google Buzz?

And in case you are like the Infomavens and value privacy (in contrast to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s beliefs) here’s an important article to read to make sure that your gmail contacts aren’t made public. Some of us Millennials still treasure a little mystery.

Google is in Trouble February 8, 2010

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How do we know Google is in trouble? Because they had to have a Super Bowl ad (which we totally loved).

Oh yeah, and they’re joining the real-time updated, social media bandwagon.

The (Possible) Effect of Social Media on Democracy January 27, 2010

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Read Write Web’s article on the superficiality of Obama accepting public questions via platforms like YouTube on today’s State of the Union address made me wonder, not for the first time, if technology will once and for all engender the birth of a true democracy. Semantically, America is not a democracy, it is a republic. We elect officials to speak for us. The opinion of each and every citizen is not taken into account. Logistically, a true democracy has always been impossible. Let’s pretend for a moment that the “digital divide” doesn’t exist; that each and every citizen has access to the internet (which hopefully most do in some form or another, via the public library).  Will the use of social media sites enable us to take a step closer to becoming a true democracy, to having the opinions of every single person heard? Is that something we would even want? Will social media really be able to accomplish such a feat?

Obama is notorious for using Web 2.0 technologies and the internet to gain popular support for his platforms (most notable now, health care reform). And today’s user-interaction with the State of the Union address is just another example of his innovation. Read Write Web asks if these attempts are mostly an illusion, as user questions can easily be ignored or filtered without the knowledge of the public (and within YouTube’s restrictions). Participants will also be using Google Moderator to vote which questions are most important to them. While I agree that this type of interaction is not the same as Obama “holding court”, it is important both in its symbolism and its utility.

From Vanity Fair, click on image for the full article.

It is symbolically important in that it shows the White House to be an entity that cares for the opinion of each and every citizen. It also shows that the White House is not a dinosaur and has embraced technological change. (But we already knew that with our young, charismatic Blackberry-addicted president, right?) And while queries can be easily ignored, if a topic comes up repeatedly enough and with enough force, the White House will become aware of it, whether they acknowledge it or not.

This method of communication is useful quite simply because it is easy and immediate. Using the web is clearly less time consuming than writing letters. The White House, with the help of YouTube and Google, can easily quantify the information, something that would be quite laborious with previous methods of data-mining. The novelty and possible anonymity of the platform will also likely involve citizens who might not otherwise be so vociferous.

Read Write Web further criticizes this method of interaction by arguing that large groups can come together to sway the numbers. But is this really a detriment? Isn’t this what groups have been doing for years in the form of petitions, walk-outs, strikes, and protests? While the concerns of a few may be buried by the concerns of larger, more organized groups, at least this platform will give them a reason, and a way to organize for such future occurrences.

What do you foresee as the possible implications of the confluence of social media and government?

A Step Closer to Google World Domination December 9, 2009

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Google has recently rolled out some new features (admittedly, a phrase I could probably repeat every week). But these features are finally interesting enough to take a closer look at.

1. Adding live updates to results: Has anyone tried this yet? I just did a trial run with “Iraq” and watched as the news continually updated. The New York Times Companies section makes the good point that this feature will be most beneficial when information is changing at a dramatic pace. In my own experience, this is how I learned of changes to the now infamous “balloon boy” scandal back in October on Twitter, as people continued to update with links from multiple news stations.

On the other hand, there is the “search overload” so hilariously addressed in bing.com commercials. As librarians, this is something we are constantly combating, both in search strategies and information literacy instruction. So while Google may be attempting to remain the public’s primary source of information by competing with live websites like Twitter and Facebook, we must always remember that quantity does not always equal quality.

2. Google Goggles: This feature particularly interests me because I presented a paper about just such a “futuristic” innovation being researched by Japanese companies only a year ago, to the oohs and aahs of classmates. Google Goggles will enable users to take a picture and then, sending it to Google, receive information on it, much like a reverse image search. The same Times’ article suggests that this feature might help you to remember the name of a forgotten acquaintance, but I would surmise that we are still a long way from that. (More info from PC World on Google Goggles.)

3. The article finally discusses improvements to Google’s voice search, a feature I already use regularly and with which I have had great success. Google voice search will be adding Japanese to their list of usable languages, a list that already includes English and Chinese.

What’s the next feature that you wish Google would develop?

Check out the whole article here.

You [Auto]Complete Me December 5, 2009

Posted by pupfiction in Just for Fun.
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The Millions has just produced an article likening Google’s auto-complete function to glimpses of the “collective unconscious”, iconic psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theory that argues for “a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals.” He believes that this, “collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms…archetypes…” (Wikipedia). Much more entertaining than the Millions’ revelatory musings is the site they link to: Autocompleteme.com, a site dedicated to sharing the humorous prompts that Google suggests when searching. Though some of these are so incomprehensible as to seem ‘shopped, I started to do my own searches to see if such hilarity would ensue. One of the reasons I found for Google’s strange auto-completions was song lyrics. This is what happened when I typed in “sometimes I” (inspired by the site’s “sometimes I wonder”):

I also got a good chuckle from Googling “what should”:

Apparently Google doubles as a life coach now. Try out your own searches and maybe if you get something good enough, post it to autocompleteme.com!

Google Books Blah Blah Blah November 30, 2009

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If you are as sick as we are of hearing about Google Books settlement updates then just scroll past this post. BUT if you just found yourself saying, “huh?”, “what?”, or (astoundingly) “that sounds interesting!”, then you should check out this guide created by the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, and ALA’s Association of College and Research Libraries that explains the revisions to the proposed settlement, and with particular emphasis on the parts that will most affect libraries. Have a Red Bull before this one!

140 Google Interview Questions November 5, 2009

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I believe this post by the Seattle Interview Coach is meant to be serious and helpful, but it’s just as humorous as it is informative. Some examples:

You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and your mass is proportionally reduced so as to maintain your original density. You are then thrown into an empty glass blender. The blades will start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?

You have five pirates, ranked from 5 to 1 in descending order. The top pirate has the right to propose how 100 gold coins should be divided among them. But the others get to vote on his plan, and if fewer than half agree with him, he gets killed. How should he allocate the gold in order to maximize his share but live to enjoy it? (Hint: One pirate ends up with 98 percent of the gold.)

Design an evacuation plan for San Francisco.

What’s 2 to the power of 64?

How many piano tuners are there in the world?

I’m assuming that Google is looking for creative answers to some of these because honestly how many people know how many piano tuners there are in the world?!?