“The Medium is the Massage” and the Search Engine

Our generation is the last of its kind. I was born in 1993 and growing up, I went to grade school, like every other child. All through elementary school, the only true source of information were textbooks. I remember going to the library in order to find books on topics I was going to research. Now, kids of all ages and adults have the ability to use search engines in order to acquire the information that’s needed. I’m referring to ‘search engines’ and not the internet or Google mostly because both of these things have turned into bigger commodities than just providing information. I want to specifically look at the conflict between learning in today’s society with the ability to obtain any bit of information imaginable through a search engine.

In Marshall McLuhan’s book, The Medium is the Massage, one of the topics discussed is the relationship between media and the medium through which it is presented. Another way to think about it, according to McLuhan, is the battle between the old environment and the new technology. This dispute can be seen between learning in the modern-day classroom and this relatively new ability to utilize a search engine for information.

In elementary and high school we are taught facts, formulas and the application of these lessons. Now that there is a plethora of information, more information available than we will ever use, what in the curriculum is obsolete? Is it important to memorize every capital of each US state, like I was required to do elementary school? Is memorization itself now nearly obsolete? Why spend hours in and out of the classroom committing to memory what you can search and find in less than a second? How can we adjust the curriculum (teaching environment) to this new form of acquiring instantaneous information (medium)?

This conflict between the classroom and the ability to ‘search’ needs to be recognized by teachers. Educators must now focus on teaching students about processes of applying information, problem solving and collaborating (1). The emphasis in school for the 21st century student is no longer about learning new information, but learning how to use information. Having the information, such as mathematical formulas or the history of Constantinople, is not the issue, like it may have been 15 years ago. There is little use for this sort of information unless it is taught to students how to apply new aged media to real-life solutions.

This brings up the issue of intellect. Intelligence is traditionally recognized by ‘knowing’ a lot. Today, what does that mean? Anyone with an electronic device from 2003 and a hand can know everything about anything. If students are provided with the tools to properly apply this ability, then I think the new standard for intelligence is bound to change. We are living in a fast-paced world and it will become ever-more important to learn the skills of improv and problem-solving. A key benchmark in education in our current era will be whether or not students can draw on lots of different types of information and bring them together to work out a solution, to gain a new perspective on a situation or to develop our knowledge of something (1). So in a sense, we are not getting less smart, just a different smart.


(1) Joanne Orlando, The Washington Post, “Technology is ruining our memory. Here’s why that doesn’t matter.”



4 thoughts on ““The Medium is the Massage” and the Search Engine”

  1. I think the question of intelligence is really thought provoking – because for me at least, the most intelligent people I know are those that are able to take the information provided and apply it to new situations. However, will we reach a point where computers and handheld devices will be able to do that for us? We are advancing so quickly right now, that anything might be possible.


  2. Your article presents the harsh reality of the current state of education. It is scary to think that learning is being changed by the instant availability of the internet. However, it is also very powerful to know that such an amazing resource is available and that curious minds can easily find answers online. I also appreciate how you noted that we aren’t getting less smart, just a “different smart.” I think too often people criticize the internet and its affect on education, but really there is no other option but to accept it.


  3. I agree that the instantaneous availability of information has greatly shaped how education should act. This sometimes worries me because I think this trend could potentially spiral out of control. To what extent will we become completely reliant on technology versus our own human intellect. I thin it is also interesting how search engines have evolved to become easier to get more specific information. Early search engines require users to use quotation marks to highlight specific key words in order to get more accurate results. Now, google can pretty much detect and spit out exactly what the user is looking for.


  4. I agree with you that times are changing and the ways of teaching should change alongside it. However, because of this, I feel as if there is a barrier being created between those who are taught to utilize the information they’re given and those who are still striving to gain new information. The resources we have today are extremely convenient and useful and I don’t believe we should shy away from teaching how to properly utilize them, but I also believe we can’t completely rely on purely using the resources if we don’t understand them.


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