In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Lenore Skenazy — who runs the fabulous “Free Range Kids” site, and wrote the eponymous book — describes a morning googling stuff with her teenage son: It begins with him showing her an ad with Lou Reed song, and twists along, in that oh-wow-that-thing-leads-to-this-thing way, until they’re reading about how the Aerosmith song “Walk This Way” was inspired by Mel Brooks’ movie Young Frankenstein. (Yeah, I had no idea either.)
She pondered whether it’s culturally weird to be googling with your kid at the breakfast table, and called me to talk about it. The Wall Street Journal piece is behind a paywall, but here was my take:
There are some who say that the Internet is rotting our brains, ruining conversation, zombifying our youth, etc. But Clive Thompson, author of the new book “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better,” contends that looking up things that lead us to other things is not just engaging, it’s enriching.
“Encyclopaedia Britannica once did a study of its users and they found that the average number of times that the average users looks at the encyclopedia was once a year,” he says. “Why? Because it’s a pain in the butt.”
Googling YouTube clips is just the opposite—simple, fun, immediate. “The proximity of this knowledge turns out to be enormously valuable,” says Mr. Thompson. It’s like having the encyclopedia at the breakfast table . . . but better. We’re not just reading about the Supremes, we’re seeing and hearing them. We’re studying musical influences. But because there isn’t a word yet for this kind of impromptu education, says Mr. Thompson, “we’re prone to feel shameful about it.”