Are We Too Stupid for Google?

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Ten years ago, I emailed a friend and asked him if he wanted to see the movie Walk the Line.

He did, so I sent him the following note. “Cool, starts at 2:30. Meet you in the lobby at 2:15.”

He responded, “OK. What time?”

I stared at my screen. Emails stack, meaning you can see previous messages in the body of the current note. Which is exactly what I was looking at. I had written, “Cool, starts at 2:30. Meet you in the lobby at 2:15.”  His response was, “OK. What time?”

All I could think was, “This could very well be the stupidest person on the face of the earth…”

For a while, I wanted to believe it was only my friend who had comprehension problems. After all, he once sent himself on a 45-minute driving adventure because he couldn’t follow simple directions: Take Exit #4, and turn left. The coffee shop is in the mini-mall by the second traffic light.

(He managed to take the wrong exit, and ended up miles away from the destination.)

But as much as I want to limit denseness to my friend, it is an unfortunate facet of society.

I know someone who works in mortgage contracts. He deals with doctors, lawyers, and other supposedly intelligent people. Yet his day is filled with the outrage of having to repeat himself. Nearly every email he sends that contains basic information—”The closing is at Bank A, at this time. Here is the address”—is responded to with a litany of questions already answered. “What time?” “What bank?” “Can I get the address?”

This. Happens. Constantly.

He snapped, once, and politely (very politely) chastised a lawyer, only to receive, “I’m busy. I don’t have time to read everything” in response.

Yes, that’s the lawyer I want looking over my contracts, one who doesn’t have time to read everything. Not even the two sentences telling him where the closing on his house is, apparently.

It’s not limited to lawyers, doctors, or other “people of importance,” it is the everyman who “doesn’t have time to read everything.”

NPR pulled a fantastic April Fool’s Joke in 2014. They ran the headline, “Why doesn’t America read anymore?” without a follow up story. In fact, the body of the story was literally, “There’s no story here, let’s just see if the comment section goes nuts with people’s opinions.”

And it did.

Many folks had passionate opinions about the non-story, because everyone has an ego; everyone is their own lawyer with “not enough time” to actually read for content.

I put together a comedy show in a bar; the explicit instructions “No one under 18 admitted. People aged 18-20 must be accompanied by a parent” were on the event page.

I fielded a half-dozen emails with the question, “Can I bring my teenager?” One even spelled out the sender’s confusion, stating: “I’m having trouble figuring out if I can bring my 15-year-old to the show.”

Right, because “No one under 18 admitted” sends a mixed message.

Sometimes, even with everything laid out in front of them, people will decide to believe what they want, facts be damned. This ranges from the large—I heard a program on anti-vaxxers where a scientist gave a skeptic a verifiable statistic, and the skeptic responded “I don’t believe you”—to the miniscule. I wrote a piece about an event in my life, and the first two comments from online strangers were, “I doubt it happened like that.”

If that wasn’t enough, people constantly ask questions to which the answer is readily available. The time they spend typing out questions could be used firing up the search engine Google.

I have a friend who is constantly texting me and asking for the address of restaurants or show times of movies. The fact he could glean the very same information using his phone to go online instead of texting eludes him.

Because people would rather ask questions than find answers, a genius (and I don’t use that term lightly) dreamed up the website LMGTFY: Let Me Google That for You. When someone asks you an idiotic question, you enter it into LMGTFY and send them the link from that site. They, in turn, get to watch a handy-dandy replay of your action, basically a smackdown showing them how easy it is to find answers on their own.

Unfortunately, while a brilliant site, it hasn’t stopped people from asking when they could be searching.

It also hasn’t prevented people from ignoring facts and sticking to their guns when passion runs into truth. Though answers now exist at our fingertips, people would rather puff their chests and double down on inaccuracies rather than admit to having made an error.

Admittedly, this has been a fairly angry rant, so I will close by admitting that I am as guilty as anyone I have mocked. We dislike in others what we see in ourselves, so I will ashamedly acknowledge my own hypocrisy.

I read the announcement Target would stop labeling toys “Girls” and “Boys,” and accidentally lumped the clothes sections in with the decree. “That’s stupid!” I posted on Facebook, my eyes rolling and Internet outrage peaking.

When it was explained I was an idiot, I felt shame. Clothes, yeah, labeling those might be important given the sizing. Toys? Meh.

We all have our moments.

Hopefully they aren’t our standards.

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Comedian Nathan Timmel

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