We are a 'lookup nation'

It sounds like a feature title that won the Best Documentary award at the Oscars but “Lookup Nation” aptly describes how we, in the real world, find information using tools that gather, aggregate and present data by scouring the digital world. You can even sort the aggregated information by more granular criteria such as relevance to your initial inquiry, utility of the supplied information and more. So did I just explain a new, innovative tool? Nope!

Welcome to early 1990s, as what I described above is basically the core competency of the now-ubiquitous search engine, offered by the likes of Google, Yahoo and Bing. Alta-Vista, Excite and Lycos, although short-lived, were early search-engine pioneers that eventually were dwarfed by Google and Yahoo in the early 2000s.

Although I can’t speak on behalf of others who, like me, may use multiple digital world tools (a computer, multiple tablets and a smartphone) throughout the day, I admit that I rarely write down the answers to my queries … even when I know I will need that information again in the future. Why? Because of the learned behavior and understanding that I can easily look up this information again on my digital world tool with the added benefit of the information being up-to-date. And this reliance on “lookup” is not unique to our culture; I'm pretty sure it is true the world over, wherever there is internet!

Which brings me to a recent conversation I had with a grade school teacher on this exact subject. She complained to me that digital world tools are ruining the educational experience of her students, as they rely too much on looking up the information instead of retaining the information. As parents, my wife and I have debated on the merits and drawbacks of how easy it is to look up information.

I couldn’t answer the teacher with any certainty as to whether her concern about the poor knowledge retention she saw in many of her students had any correlation with the lookup culture that use of digital world tools has introduced. Perhaps its effects are different for each child; how teachers use digital world tools in their curriculum and how parents approach this subject all contribute to this.

Fittingly, the only thing I could add to that conversation was an offer to “Google it” to see what experts on cognitive behavior were finding and publishing on this subject. It was an interesting discussion even though I had no answers, only opinions and anecdotal stories.

Tak Sato

Technology and Organization Strategist with over 25 years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As co-founder of geek with a heart with the service mark "Hand-holding You in the Digital World" and co-founder of Center for Aging in the Digital World, a nonprofit empowering seniors through technology, Tak helps people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 8, Issue 21, Posted 10:02 AM, 11.01.2016