# # Oh, those kids
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Oh, those kids

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© January 2008 Anthony Lawrence


"Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future" is a 35 page PDF you can download from http://www.bl.uk/news/pdf/googlegen.pdf. This study has caused much shaking of heads and predictions of doom:

From Pioneering research shows "Google Generation" is a myth:

A new study overturns the common assumption that the "Google Generation" - youngsters born or brought up in the Internet age - is the most web-literate. The first ever virtual longitudinal study carried out by the CIBER research team at University College London claims that, although young people demonstrate an apparent ease and familiarity with computers, they rely heavily on search engines, view rather than read and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the web.

Oh my. Our children have no skills. "O tempora! O mores!", lamented Cicero..

From Researchers Scoff At Google Generation

The kids are skimming instead of thinking

And I'm sure you know that already.. isn't it obvious when that Walmart checkout kid can't make change for a twenty without electronic help? Oh, the world is going to hell in a hurry, isn't it? If we only had whipped our kids more instead of coddling them..


First of all, the study itself acknowledges that skimming and lack of good research skills are nothing new: these things predate the Internet (remember Cliff's Notes?). They also note that (page 14) "people have different information needs at different points in their lives" - well, duh: struggling to get through academic stamping is far different than working in the real world, isn't it?

The study says that young people have "unsophisticated mental maps of what the internet is" - they think that if Google or Yahoo sends them to a particular page as the top search result, that page must be the best place to go to. Well, that may be true, but sophistication comes with time and experience. My generation probably thought that TV news was accurate and trustworthy - until we learned better. This study admits it is impossible to say what will happen with these kids in the future (page 13) - my bet is they'll learn just as every generation before them learned.

Basically, the study finds it disturbing that "skimming and bouncing" are the norm rather than deep research. I think that's nonsense: students have always skimmed, bounced and done whatever they could to do as little deep research as they could get away with. The Internet has just made it easier.

By the way, I found it amusing that the researchers themselves relied on Wikipedia to define terms like "Google Generation"..

The study concludes that the "Google Generation" use libraries less, and of course (as the study was commissioned by the British Library) they find that a dire portent. Page 9 warns that there is a "real danger that the library professional will be swept away by history". The implication is that the loss of these professionals would be catastrophic to society, because these kids don't know how to search for information on Google or anywhere else. They use natural language questions "rather than analyzing which key words might be effective".. oh my.. but wait: on page 15, they note that this predates the web: people never did know how to search. So what's the problem again?

Oh, yeah, we need those librarians. Page 16 complains about money spent on access to expensive copyrighted material - but ungrateful users don't realize that the library provided it.. and in general, your average student is uninterested in the library in general. Well, except the elite students, apparently. Some kids do make use of library strengths.. well, again, I have to give them a big "Duh!": there have always been those who really wanted to learn and those who just wanted to get the damn degree and get on with their lives. Always. Even Cicero might have agreed with that.

Pages 18 to 20 summarize the findings - to me, it reads like any generation whining about the previous. Only 27% use IT. 20% dislike and avoid technology. 100% use word processors but only 25% build web pages. Again, what's different? The majority has always been slackers, and always will be. Some kids strive to achieve, some don't. The Internet hasn't changed that.

At one point, the study notes "We are all librarians now" - perhaps with sarcastic intent, but the reality is that this is true, at least for some of us. Some of us really do NOT need "information professionals" to find our way around the web or a physical library. Others do need help in either place.. so?

I'm not worried about the young'uns. They'll do just fine.

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-> Oh, those kids


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Wed Jan 23 15:54:28 2008: 3512   BigDumbDinosaur

Interesting commentary about using a library. Prior to the ready availability of on-line research materials, I spent a fair amount of time in the local public library researching computer technology. For example, it was from borrowed library books that I learned about B-trees and how to implement them. The books were sufficient in detail that I was able to actually do a basic B-tree implementation on a Commodore 128D (accomplished with some really serious machine code and a lot of patience).

Over the years, of course, I've accummulated quite a few computer and technology books, of which I continue to refer to six or so volumes. Even though I think I know UNIX backward and forward, I still look at my copy of The UNIX Programming Environment (the Kernighan and Pike tome from 1984, now severely dog-eared) now and then for refresher purposes. Sometimes, rereading old and familiar concepts helps when my brain is refusing to function as desired. And, there's nothing in K&P's literary work that's really out of date.

The fact is although the Internet has a lot to offer in the way of research resources, it can be difficult at times to locate the resource that is needed, due both to the vagaries of the English language and the sheer volume of available on-line data. For that reason, I still make occasional treks to the library, either the public one supported by our property taxes (a good use of tax dollars, I say, more so than feeding lazy welfare recipients) or the "library" on the sturdy shelves in my office, which have developed a slight, permanent sag over the years.

The Internet may have caused a shift in how people get information. I know plenty of folks who haven't picked up a real book in a long time since getting a computer and going on-line. However, everything on the Internet is ephemeral and subject to the whims of electronic evanescence -- as well as the opinions of the blogger de jour. Books, however, are permanent and because the time and effort required to write a good book is considerable, less likely to be plagued with inaccuracies and crass opinions. Lastly, books serve both as sources of information for the present and historical records of what was once "state of the art."

Wed Jan 23 16:08:16 2008: 3513   TonyLawrence

I agree, but: let's not forget that a "book" is just a physical manifestation of the thoughts and words it contains, and that the right book can be just as hard to find as the right web page - and for the same reasons. However, the web has the advantage of being able to improve: it can store more, it can be made easier to find things.. long term, I see the web winning and libraries losing. We're some distance from that yet..

Thu Jan 24 14:56:00 2008: 3518   BigDumbDinosaur

long term, I see the web winning and libraries losing.

No argument from me on that. I'm sure a time will come when public libraries as we know them will be as outdated as hand cranks on automobiles. However, I don't think books themselves will ever go out of style.

If the Internet has done anything for the advancement of knowledge, it would be in making it more readily available. People who would not bother to trek to a library would certainly fire up a web browser, go to a search engine and type in a phrase to learn about whatever it is that they have interest. In that respect, I see the Internet as a progressive thing. I don't, however, approve of schools solely depending on Internet access for students to do research. When you just give something to someone without them doing a little work to get it, an important step in the middle is missing, which is the gaining of appreciation for what it takes to do anything really worthwhile.


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