We shouldn’t confuse computer literacy with information literacy.

File this under “Yikes! That can’t be good.”

Press Release from The British Library.

A new study overturns the common assumption that the ‘Google Generation’ – youngsters born or brought up in the Internet age – is the most web-literate. The first ever virtual longitudinal study carried out by the CIBER research team at University College London claims that, although young people demonstrate an apparent ease and familiarity with computers, they rely heavily on search engines, view rather than read and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the web.

It appears from the study entitled Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future (PDF – 1.6MB) that while the next generation is comfortable using computers and the associated tools, applications and technologies… they lack the ability to effectively absorb and process the information they locate there.

Even more disturbing is this:

… that research-behaviour traits that are commonly associated with younger users – impatience in search and navigation, and zero tolerance for any delay in satisfying their information needs – are now becoming the norm for all age-groups, from younger pupils and undergraduates through to professors.

More after the jump…

There are two fundamental issues here:

  1. Expectations regarding the amount of work/time that needs to be invested to understand any given topic.
  2. The ability of “young people” to read, digest and critically assess information.

While I’m prepared to chalk the first up to the rise of a digital society (after all… if you want to know about something… you Google it now – you don’t go to the library) the second strikes me as a bit frightening.

After all the only value of information is what we do with it once we understand it. If we are indeed creating a generation that requires their information neatly packaged with built in conclusions we are going to be in trouble. Unless of course you happen to be a politician – in which case your are thrilled because your 30 second sound bite is exactly what is required.

We need to be teaching our children (and reminding ourselves) that the ready availability of information is a way to enhance our ability to learn, understand, and come to critical conclusions – not a substitute for that ability.

Now, having said that – I remember writing research papers about topics I did not care one tiny little bit about. I also recall my desire to find a source (any source) that would tell me what to think so that I may regurgitate (not plagiarize mind you) that thinking in my own words. Simply put, sometimes it is not worth the effort to think critically about information, because there is not internalized benefit to doing so.

The real question is: How much of the report points to the former, and how much to the latter?

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