Just Google It…

How many times have you heard that phrase or something similar… or used your mouse, thumbs, or fingers – or Siri – to look up something you likely should have known… just to make sure… or because it was easier.

That’s fine for simple facts, or even simple numbers, but in most occupations there are methods, systems,techniques… and facts… that a professional in that field needs to know cold – absolutely cold, without having to look them up.

A number of years ago, my wife almost died while emergency room physicians were looking for causes of her incredibly painful symptoms and trying to figure out what was wrong. She was extraordinarily fortunate. The senior surgeon on call arrived and took less than a minute to diagnose that she had a ruptured colon and that she was in septic shock. Even so, it took three major operations and eleven months before she fully recovered. If we’d had to rely on people looking up things, I’d be a widower today.

I was once a Navy pilot. You have to know instinctively a wide range of emergency procedures when something goes wrong. You don’t have time to look them up.

Now, in other professions, it’s not necessarily a matter of life and death, but a matter of time…. Or perhaps keeping your job. Professional singers, especially musical theatre and opera singles, who do live concerts have to learn the music. You can’t carry a score around and sing from it.

One of the things I learned early on as an industrial economist is that there are numbers… and what those numbers mean, really mean. Later on, when I was doing environmental consulting, and looking at epidemiology exposure studies, in one case where I was hired, most of the studies only used either arithmetic or geometric means to represent the exposures. No one seemed to look at the frequency distribution of exposure levels – and they showed a very different picture, essentially that exposures above a certain level had very adverse health effects, and that below that level the effects weren’t discernable, but because the numbers of workers in the plant who were exposed to high levels were very small, and the numbers with low or minimal exposure were far larger, using any kind of mean effectively showed that the health risk was acceptably low. Yet there was no mention of this in any of the data. Everyone was arguing over setting the level of “mean exposure.”

The danger I see today with students is that a great many of them have an attitude of “why do I have to learn that when I can just look it up.”

The problem with that attitude is that, in any professional field, there is information that professionals need to know on an on-going and instant basis to do their job and before they can learn more in order to do their job better.

And “Googling it” just doesn’t cut it.

6 thoughts on “Just Google It…”

  1. Lourain says:

    You have to know enough to know what to look up! (And whether your sources are reliable.)

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    Even below those who think that an online search is all they need, are those too lazy (or too inexperienced with using the search tool as effectively as it can be used) to even go to the trouble of looking for an answer that neither needs to be already known nor learned, merely found. They’ll waste someone else’s time asking, when whoever knows the answer fast (or even can find it more effectively than they can) is probably more useful doing something other than answering their questions.

    In techie environments (rather than general public environments), questions that someone could have answered by simply doing their own search, tend to get responses like RTFM (read the fine/friendly/f-ing manual) or “Google is your friend”, as a reminder.

    So there are certainly cases where refusing to make a greater effort to actually learn something by claiming Google as an alternative is impractical laziness. But there are also cases where refusing to even search when searching would provide sufficient answer, is also impractical laziness.

    And of course, someone can both learn and, having learned how to learn, also learn how to use Google to find specific information, how to distinguish between scholarship, ads, and nonsense, etc. Given the increasing numbers of professional journals that are freely available (no paywall), if someone has the basics along with some skill at independent study, AND does their Googling and reading well before they need the info, it’s a significant part of their independent study tool chest.

    For any given error, there’s probably at least one other error, more or less opposite to it. 🙂

    1. Ryan Jackson says:

      Beat me to it. The term “Google it” far more often is used to say “Try and get the answer yourself before you cave and ask someone.”

      IE my company does very little in terms of teaching MS Office. But uses it constantly. The approach is “We want you to do X.” X being a Powerpoint deck, an Access Database, an Excel workbook, whatever. And they’re often given an example document, but no direction.

      The people who advance are the ones who go to Google and find out how to make those pivot tables, how to import a chart over into powerpoint, how to build a query in Access, etc.

      So while always relying on the internet or other outside sources for knowledge is lazy, the term is aimed more at willingness to go find the answer instead of expecting someone else to tell you.

      1. Tim says:

        Interestingly one major presentation to senior management was successful as it was hand-drawn in real time and the presenter spoke from knowledge. No notes, no database of stats and no word documents to hand out.

        Probably it succeeded as it was different from the usual death-by-powerpoint stuff. If everyone did this however, the impact would likley flip.

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    Long before Google or the Internet, E.E. “Doc” Smith in his “Skylark” series postulated “mechanical educators”, mind-to-mind (or recording-to-mind) information transfer devices, capable of transferring not just information but integrated skill sets. Yet he made the distinction that acquisition of knowledge or skills that way still fell short of experience actually applying them.

    A range of tools are available, and the tools are getting smarter; but they’re still dumb to the point of being easily misled by them if one supposes them to be smarter than they are. The effective will use new tools appropriately (still with some grasp of how to do everything manually, both as fallback and to have something to compare the online tools to). The ineffective will be lazy or uninformed. The creation of new tools probably won’t hinder the effective nor help the chronically ineffective, although the latter may get from the tools all they really know how to get, i.e. more excuses.

  4. Wine Guy says:

    If I had a dollar for every time a nurse looked something up on her phone ‘just to make sure’ when I give them a medication order, I’d be a lot closer to retirement. I went to medical school in an era when ‘learning the material’ meant “read the book, make your own flash cards, and prepare to be tested and quizzed to within an inch of one’s life.”

    It isn’t hard to tell the doctors who learn things the old fashioned way from the doctors who rely on their phones and laptop computers when it comes to making decisions.

    My suggestion: look for the doctors with grey hair.

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