Google – White Bread for the Mind?


Tara Brabazon, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Brighton has stimulated a lot of discussion with her inaugural lecture: Google: white bread for the mind” (Full-text available on NexisUK – Athens username and pasword needed to log in). 

In it she argues that easy access to online sources has blunted students’ ability to find material of quality so much so that they can’t distinguish between information and knowledge. Professor Brabazon bans her students from using Google or Wikipedia during their first year. Instead she asks them to find their source material from a compilation of 200 extracts from peer reviewed journal articles. In this way she hopes they will develop critical thinking skills.

Librarians don’t discourage students from using Google but try to teach them to use it properly, so that they can sort the wheat from the chaff. David Dolowitz, Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool has adopted different approach from Tara Brabazon. During their year studying on his MA course, students confine themselves to using electronic sources and learn to use the Internet to find quality sources. Dolowitz’s book co-authored with Steve Buckler : Politics on the Internet : a guide for students  grew out of his M.A. course and has some general guidance on searching which would be invaluable for all social science students.

It is perhaps unrealistic to ban students from using Google even if it is only for one year because ‘googling’  is so much part of all our lives. Students writing on blogs have reacted unfavourably to Tara Brabazon’s lecture because they feel as they if they are constantly under attack for using the Internet as a source. Perhaps it would be better to embed the teaching of information literacy into the curriculum as soon as it is practical, so that students can learn how to discriminate between the different types of  information on the Internet and in which contexts they should be used.

As the late great humorist Miles Kington said “ The difference between wisdom and knowledge consists of knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad”.

 Let us know what you think about the idea of Google or Wikipedia being banned.  Is it a good idea?

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on


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