“Google Generation” failing?


In Norway (and the World in general), there’s currently a lot of buzz about the “Google generation”, and how libraries are failing to meet the challenge this new, up-and-coming generation presents. Funnily though, research and anecdotal evidence indicates that the “Google generation” aren’t particularly good at Googling, nor are they, in truth, an up-and-coming generation.

The research evidence is there for you to read, but the anecdotal evidence I’ve picked up along the way tells me these things:

  • (Young) people can’t Google
  • (Young) people struggle to evaluate information
  • (Young) people are generally humble asking for search help
  • (Young) people have few real computing skills

The first point is a simple truth: googling is a skill, it’s part of information literacy. This is something that librarians teach. The point here is that people simply don’t understand that search engines are tools that need to be used in a specific way, that you need to use in a specific way to get the results you desire, and that the results that get returned need to be interpreted. In many ways, people need to learn that searching is a circular process, where the results are used to refine the search. But, the thing that is crazy is that the more you do circular searching, the better you get at it — and there’s always more to learn.

The second point is very closely tied to the first point, evaluating any information is a learned skill. This is something that librarians teach. Perhaps students need to know what to look at, for example, interpret the url, how is the document formatted, the author’s biography, who links to the document — who cites the document, what does your intuition say about these things.

The third point has to do with the fact that most people know that these are skills they lack, and consequently ask for expert help. That’s what librarians are there for (or do they just check books in/out and tell people where books/toilets/printers are, say “Hush!”?)

The fourth point is really a great surprise to me: people know about the applications that they use, but they don’t know anything about computer technology per se. If you present a PaintShop Pro user with Adobe Photoshop, they’re not going anywhere fast (yes, some of the skills and concepts are transferable, but a surprising amount of people will just balk at the differences). If ICT skills really are transferable, people would not fear sitting in front of a Linux, Mac or Windows workstation instead of their usual choice because these systems are — in reality — so close to each other in terms of user experience that it makes no real difference which one you sit in front of. The fact of the matter is that people do fear change, because their skills are non-transferable. In the same way, a web user knows about the sites they visit, but they don’t know how to interpret other things on the Web; they don’t seem to see the Web as a coherent whole.

So, is the Google generation failing? No, they’re just the same as any other generation, it’s just that there’s more technology nowadays. Not everyone is an information expert, nor are they computer experts, in the same way; not everyone is an astrophysicist, librarian, pig farmer. People need to learn skills in order to use the tools properly, and they learn best by doing, but you can’t learn in a vacuum — you need expert input from somewhere. (Actually, one of the theories I really rate in this respect is constructionism.)


Information behaviour of the researcher of the future – Executive summary, but see also Mythbusting the ‘Google generation’ report

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2 Responses to ““Google Generation” failing?”

  1. Woeful Says:

    Thank the Maker! I need some kind of job security.

  2. brinxmat Says:

    Lol. You’re right: I thank Larry, Sergey, Bill, David, Jerry and various other makers for keeping me in work.

    Working at an academic library, I am mostly in contact with 19–30 and 40+ year-olds, which means that I don’t meet the real “Google generation”. Do you have experience with actual Google-babies? If so how does your experience with these stack up against my half-baked observations?

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