Pity the Google generation


(RadioFlyer007 – http://flickr.com/photos/radioflyer007/402409100/ )

First they’re told they are the cut and paste generation, then they’re told they don’t exist.

John amongst others points to the British Library research looking at people’s use of virtual libraries. The headlines of the report are that:

i) For some habits there is little evidence that youngsters use the internet particularly differently to others, we all have bad habits

ii) The behaviours people exhibit are: Horizontal information seeking, lots of time navigating, view rather than read, squirreling (ie downloading for later use), quickly assess authority for themselves.

iii) Young people do not find library sites intuitive and prefer Google

iv) Children make narrow relevance judgements e.g. ‘does it contain the exact phrase I searched for?’ and thus miss relevant documents.

There is a good section towards the end where they take a number of myths about the Google generation and assess whether they are true, giving a confidence on their verdict. For example, they prefer visual over text (Yes), They are expert searchers (No).

A lot of people (e.g. Nicholas Carr) have jumped on this as saying the Google generation a) doesn’t exist and b) if it does exist has dumbed down. I think the report is more nuanced than that, some of the Google generation myths are borne out, others less so. This doesn’t mean it is a myth overall – they are a generation that has grown up with Google, and that has influenced their behaviour.

Another point to note is that this is about the use of virtual libraries. This paragraph was interesting:

Many librarians have started to experiment with social software in an attempt to get closer to their users. They have a problem. Although research libraries spend millions of pounds providing seamless desktop access to expensive copyrighted electronic content: journals, books and monographs, much of this is news to their users. Either they do not know that the library provides this material, or they get to it, possibly via Google, and assume it’s `free’. Libraries are increasingly between a rock and a hard place: the publisher or search engine gets the credit, they just pick up the tab.

This gets us back to the whole future of content stuff, and fame vs fortune. I think a lot of users simply don’t want to know about resources that don’t make themselves available. When I’m searching Flickr for photos to use in presentations, I only search for those that have a Creative Commons licence. If you don’t have this, you won’t even get seen. The same often applies when I’m researching – if I come across a reference that is in a database I can’t get access to, or hilariously, expects me to pay to read it, I don’t bother (usually). I’ll find the same sort of information elsewhere.

So the take away for me would be that the Google generation expect their resources to be freely available, and accessible via Google. Expecting them to go off to walled gardens with obscure search mechanisms is rather insisting they conform to our modes of behaviour, and then deriding them for not doing so seems churlish.


(stefanlucut – http://flickr.com/photos/stefanlucut/710279326/)

On the cut and paste generation report, to me this says ‘children are given such crappy unengaging assessment that they can get away with cutting and pasting’. Isn’t this relatively good behaviour on their part? They are doing what human beings do best, satisficing. They get away with the minimal effort required to complete the assessment, because it doesn’t interest them, and because they can. If we devised better forms of assessment that were more imune to plagiarism and more interesting then you turn these cut and paste habits into research ones. Which brings us full circle – we’re failing the Google generation by allowing them to have bad habits. John Connell has a good response on this too.

One Comment

  • Michele Martin

    I completely agree with your last observation! Educators blame students for cutting and pasting the web to complete assignments, and my first thought is always, “Well if you’re giving them assignments that could be completed through cut and paste, then you’re not doing your job very well. We don’t live in a cut and paste world, and these kids need to be learning how to apply and use this knowledge, not how to repeat it back to you!” As someone who works with companies and organizations on professional development and talent management kinds of issues, it seems to me that schools are doing kids a major disservice when they give these kinds of rote assignments. It’s doubly unfair when they then blame the kids for doing what most adults would do in that circumstance.
    Great post!

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