Feature: Those Darn Kids and Their Search Engines

Back in college, I loved the Lexis-Nexis machine. Why? Because I could search. And search. And search. Writing papers was a cinch. That is, until a professor accused me of not conducting “proper” research. Apparently digitized content, although referenced, was not hard enough work for him. And while one would think that today’s educators would have adapted to new technology, I recently heard of a school where students must hand in a photocopy of books referenced in their term papers. Sigh.

Last fall, a study by Yahoo and Hall & Partners revealed that 81 percent of college students rated search engines as the best source of information . I admit that search technology can be a double-edged sword. It is no secret that students can easily search for just the right term paper and hand it in with no sweat. But is search really the death of reading? Comprehension? Thinking?

I figured I’d ask an expert. So I reached out to Scott, my younger cousin, via instant messenger. His auto response? “Just call the cell” (followed by his number). Hmmm. This is the same teenager who once told me “I never pay for digital music.” He definitely fit the demographic. When I tracked him down, the conversation went like this:

Sara: Do you use search engines to research term papers?

Scott: That’s all I use.

Sara: And do teachers care?

Scott: Nope. How else are we supposed to find stuff?

Sara: Uh, card catalog? Did you ever use one?

Scott: Yea, in like the 5th grade. We could use books, but that’s inconvenient.

As the conversation continued, Scott pointed out that we are lazier due to engines, but also able to access information whenever we want. We summed it up by agreeing that we have developed a greater curiosity to search for answers than in the past, but that perhaps our rote memory is slowly dying. He also deftly pointed out that he prefers Wikipedia these days, because “It is like Google is just filled with people trying to sell you stuff.”

Which brings me to the thought that perhaps searching is the rock ‘n’ roll of our day. In the 1960s, anyone with a garage and three chords could set up a band and voila, instant pop star. And while most eventually became yearbook memories, bands like the Beatles changed the world.

Why? They took what was easy and then put in hard work and constant innovation. Those darn kids today not only embrace search technology, but are much more aware of how it has changed their lives than we give them credit for. For some, searching is the easy way out. But for others, it is simply a platform upon which the tradition of hard work and innovation will be built.

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