Google at 20: the site that rewired our brains

Search me: Google processes 3.5 billion searches every single day. © Getty

Has Google made the world a better place? The search engine is celebrating its 20th birthday. Google makes it easy to find out anything you want to know, but some say it is making us dumber.

What’s happening

Twenty years ago, working from a garage in California, two young men launched a website that would change the world: Google. The simple search engine made it possible to quickly find information online. Today, it receives 40,000 queries every second and draws on trillions of web pages.

Find out more

These days, Google is much more than a search engine. Google Maps help people find their way. Around 80% of smartphones use Google’s operating system. More recently, Google Home speakers have begun to tell jokes and recommend music.

In fact, it is as if Google is often doing our thinking for us. Before Google, if you wanted to know the answer to a question you would have to research it in a book, or perhaps talk to an expert on the subject. Now it only takes a few seconds to find out almost anything.

This is very convenient, but it could also be harmful. Studies have found that attention spans have almost halved since 2000 and that many people are becoming more forgetful. Some call this the “Google effect”.

Is Google a force for good?

Some say…

Of course it is! For hundreds of years, only a select few people had access to expert knowledge. Now, anyone can find out anything at the touch of a button. Google has made the world much fairer, and much, much more interesting. Anyway, who really needs to remember directions when your phone is always there to guide you?

Others think…

Google is turning us all into zombies. The benefit of learning things from books and teachers is that you are more likely to remember them afterwards. Using Google to look up trivia online is pointless if you forget it straight away. Most importantly, we should not get so dependent on Google that we cannot think or survive for ourselves.

You Decide

  1. How would your life change if Google disappeared tomorrow?

Activities

  1. As a class, list the five most important inventions in history. Is Google one of them?

Some People Say...

“We want Google to be the third half of your brain.”

Sergey Brin, Google co-founder

What do you think?

Word Watch

Queries
Questions. In this case, that includes anything you type into Google.
Operating system
The software on a phone or computer. Google’s operating system is called Android.
Recommend
To suggest something you might like.
Convenient
Easy and simple.
Benefit
Advantage; the good thing about something.
Trivia
Small, random pieces of information.
Dependent
Needing or relying on something.

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