“Just Google It!” Or not?

google search engine on macbook pro

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In my relatively short lifetime, technology has changed by leaps and bounds.  As a 3rd grader, we saved documents to 5 ¼ inch floppy disks which later downsized to 3.5-inch hard disks.  By high school I had learned to email documents to myself ‘just in case’ I lost my flash drive or wanted to work on them from home.  Now, I can save documents to ‘the cloud,’ print wirelessly from my phone, and I essentially carry a small computer/camera/video recorder with me everywhere I go.  Along with these changes, we’ve transitioned to a, ‘Just Google It’ society, which leaves me wondering what we’re missing while we’re Googling.

Once during graduate school my advisor, Dr. Terry Klopfenstein, responded to a question that, “We just don’t know that yet.”  It finally clicked.  We (the Animal Science community, in that case) really did not know the answer to that question.  Until then, I had always felt that if I would just study hard enough, would just read enough books, and would just put forth enough effort, that it would be possible to master the material.  Finally, I realized that not all the answers were in a book or were even obtainable.  Instead, there was still much research to be done in order to continue to discover, “the answers.”

Since then, I’ve wondered how in my education had I developed the notion that all the answers were available, somewhere, somehow?  I realized that I had trained myself to read not necessarily for comprehension but just enough to find ‘the answer.’  I realized that my method of researching a topic often amounted to “Just Googling” until the needed information could be found.  I learned that I need to read for comprehension, so that through understanding a topic there can be questioning, analyzing, and the creation of new information, not just repetition of someone else’s version.

With the touch of a button we can ask Google for facts, figures, and the weather.  But what do we really need from those we work and serve with?  Rarely do we need more facts and figures, but instead we need people who can think critically, and problem solve.  Recently Kaleb sent me to our local Napa to pick up a part.  The parts man explained that while they didn’t have the piece needed, he could pull it out of a different kit and sell it to me for $11 versus $32 for the whole kit with the excess parts.  His problem solving (and saving me money) was refreshing!  We need to encourage people to not just remember information or mindlessly follow a protocol but to instead analyze and evaluate in order to solve problems.

Recently a fellow extension agent and I were discussing the challenges of attracting younger producers to events.  While there’s likely numerous factors at play, I have to think that a generation that has grown up with 24/7 access to nearly unlimited information may not value an educational program like those from other generations.  However, we need to remember that not all answers can be found on the internet.  Most problems in nature, particularly production agriculture, are complex and multi-faceted and much curiosity is needed to tackle these problems.  While its very possible to gain information via YouTube or a Google search, there may be as much information to be gained from visiting with a fellow producer over a coffee break or networking with a speaker.  Similarly, I can listen to numerous podcasts and read multiple books on marriage and parenting, but the wise counsel of a mature and Godly friend who has already walked that road can be even more impactful.  We must not substitute information for conversations and relationships.

The technology available to us today is phenomenal and will only continue to increase.  I certainly wouldn’t trade a Google search for the days of combing encyclopedias and numerous resource books for a quick answer.  However, as we embrace this technology we must continue to read to grow in understanding, train people to problem solve and think critically, and develop relationships with those around us.