Is the Web Dumbing Us All Down?

Tara Brabazon, Professor of Media at the University of Brighton, has a lot to say… and loudly … about the insidious effect on our ability to analyse and engage critically with information when we rely on the ‘McDonald’s, fries and Coke’ of the Internet, Google (Brabazon’s other descriptives for Google are the ‘whitebread’  and the ‘Atkin’s diet’ of  search engines) to retrieve information for us. Her argument is that Google provides us with a very comfortable and unchallenging way to engage with information and that real learning only happens outside of that sort of comfort zone. We feed into Google what we actually know . That is, we are bound by our own limited knowledge and vocabulary in terms of using keyword searches, and Google gives us back information that sits within our personal vocabulary and knowledge parameters – we are not challenged by what we retrieve and do not engage with it fully, we are rarely stretched in terms of our conceptual thinking or in terms of our vocabulary. We consume information, according to Brabazon, much as we do food – if it’s there let’s eat it. What we need, she suggests, are some simple ‘dietary’ tips to offset ‘information obesity’. Using work with her own students as an example, Brabazon demonstrates how we can shift ourselves from being passive receptors of information to actively engaging with the search and retrieval process in a way that results in richer and more reliable information and where we, the ‘searcher’ engage critically with that information. This is, of course, central to any argument for the development of information or digital literacy skills.

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