Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise;
apply your heart to what I teach. Proverbs 22:17
Half of the title of this post will be recognized by almost everyone on the planet – the first word, of course. It’s so ubiquitous that it has been turned into a verb – as in, “have you googled it”?
GIGO, on the other hand is a product of the ‘80s, and only a handful of folks remember that it is an acronym for “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” Simply stated, it is a mathematical and computer concept that basically says that the quality of the output depends on the quality of input. Said another way, flawed input of nonsense results in flawed output of nonsense.
There is also the Google Effect, which is now a recognized as a mental illness brought to you courtesy of the internet. It is one eight new mental disorders which are now recognized by the medical field.
The term Google Effect describes a condition where your brain’s ability to retain information and facts has declined because the information can be found online by doing searches on Google or other search engines.
It might not surprise you that Google accounts for 90% of all internet searches. It is the “go-to” source of information. Sadly, as Jack Nicas wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Google has picked an Answer for You – Too bad It’s Often Wrong.” That’s the essence of GIGO.
Nicas notes that Google has presented itself as the ultimate “authority on truth by promoting a single search result for the answer”. For example, the question “Does money buy happiness?” results in the highlighted answer “There is enough scientific research to prove it.” Really?
If asked “Should abortion be legal?”, Google cites a South African news site saying: “It is not the place of government to legislate against women’s choices.” This is one of the promoted answers, which are outlined in boxes above other results and presented in larger type, often with accompanying pictures or images.
Unfortunately, these answers are often believed by many people as being the definitive answer. According to the WSJ article, “surveys show people consider search engines as their most-trusted source of information, over traditional media and social media.”
While many of answers has sources, not all of the answers do. Answers to the question asking for a list of the “worst CEO’s” had no sources, for example. Google’s “featured” answers has caused a debate about the ability of Silicon Valley companies to influence and manipulate society.
Google’s answer to that charge was that the answers were “generated algorithmically and are a reflection of what people are searching for and what’s available”.. In other words, your answers are partly a function of what people are asking.
This from a company that self-reports that its Top “How to” question is “How to make slime?”, followed by “How to make solar eclipse glasses?” In other words, Garbage In, Garbage Out.
A friend or mine recently sent me a humorous video of a job interview by a millennial (you can listen to it below). Although it is a parody, it has some very poignant truths. When the job applicant is told that she will be required to do research, she responds that she is good at it and can just asked Siri.
For those of you without an iPhone, Siri is the voice on your iPhone or iPad which can do internet searches to answer verbal questions. The employer in the video is dumbfounded, of course, at this answer. The idea that quality research can be done by asking Siri or doing a search on Google is a little mind-blowing.
Here’s why: A study by an analyst of the tech industry showed that Google’s search engine answered 5,000 questions correctly with a 97.4% accuracy. Problem is that Google handles trillions of queries a year and a 2.6% error rate means that billions of answers are wrong. Other services (Amazon’s Siri, and Microsoft) are not as accurate.
“Searching on a mobile device is very different from a desktop computer. Speed and simplicity really matter” says the President of Google’s parent. “It’s why the best answer is usually THE answer” [emphasis added]. Or not, if it happens to be wrong, but too often people trust the answer to their detriment. The answers may be entirely wrong, incomplete or irrelevant.
An example from the Wall Street Journal article: If you do a search “Why Are Komodo dragons endangered”, the featured answer is: tourism, volcanos and fire. Problem is that the answer comes from a Canadian elementary students’ report listed on-line. Oh, and by the way, Komodo dragons are not endangered.
The challenge here is that the next generation is wedded to getting its answers from Google and other internet sources. According to a story in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, close to half of the American population gets its news from Facebook.
The problem with that is that Facebook’s algorithms will choose what stories you are likely to read, so you ultimately only get one side of a story. If it is biased, then so be it. That’s a slippery slope.
For mentors and parents, we need to challenge the next generation to read more. Answers can be nuanced and detailed and not dumbed down into a single sentence as if that was all there is to a problem or an issue. We also need to find creative ways to engage the next generation in ideas like absolute truth from scripture. There are no wrong answers in the Bible.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Be sure to watch the job interview video below. It gives a humorous look into the millennials mindset, and is instructive that their thought processes are often flawed by thinking that Google can be trusted for all answers to all questions.
FURTHER STUDY: A humorous video job interview with a millennial: https://vimeo.com/239050403/ cdd07b248e
Jack Nicas Wall Street Journal article on Google’s Wrong Answers: https://www.wsj.com/articles/googles-featured-answers-aim-to-distill-truthbut-often-get-it-wrong-1510847867
For articles on the Google Effect: http://academicearth.org/electives/internet-changing-your-brain/
An article on Digital Heroin: http://miami.cbslocal.com/2017/03/03/doc-claims-too-much-screen-time-turns-kids-into-digital-junkies/
WORSHIP: Listen to Open the Eyes of My Heart by Michael W. Smith: Open the Eyes of My Heart – YouTube
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