For more than a decade, Google was my main gateway to the internet, like many others. In the last years, there's been quite a backlash against the giant from Mountain View, mostly about issues with user data privacy. The argument is that, if you use Google, you're basically allowing them to use your personal info as they wish.
Last year, I switched to another search engine, but it wasn't really for the privacy issues. It is actually for a more subtle reason: to prevent my brain from atrophy. Let me explain.
I first tried to Ecosia for a while last year. I liked the idea of planting trees by doing web searches. But after a few weeks, I switched back to Google, because I found the results lacking in accuracy and practicality. Let's be honest: nobody likes spending a long time in the search results, except maybe if you work in SEO.
So I went back to Google for a little while. But I don't use Chrome. My main browser is Brave, and by default, it makes you use DuckDuckGo. So I tried using it as my main search engine, and I ended up sticking to that.
There were two main reasons to move away from Google: first, because I found that, surprisingly, Google's search result quality was decreasing. Second, not because about privacy or ecological motives, but because I wanted to stop being a lazy ass and start using my brain more.
It just dawned on me that I became extremely lazy in my thinking, and I believe Google is part of the problem. I'm not the only one thinking of this. Nicholas Carr, the author of The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, posed the question in an 2008 essay titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?".
Finding information and answers in a matter of seconds made me drastically reduce the usage of my cognitive abilities. Think about it for a second: when was the last time you had a question in mind, or were facing a problem, and you stopped to just think about it? Or asked a friend? Or ran experiments? If you're like me, your first instinct is probably to just head over to Google, and ask the internet for a quick answer. Note: in 2023 this is likely getting even worse with ChatGPT and other AI chatbots.
For a while, I even bragged about being good at using Google, calling myself a Google search expert. And I still believe I am. But that's the problem. You see, for anything I wanted to answer, I would first start by asking Google. Sometimes it is necessary, but not always. When all your answers come from Google searches, it's time to pause and reflect. Can't you try to come up with your own answers from time to time?
By no means I'm saying we should stop using search engines. They're super useful. What I'm saying is we should sometimes strive to come up with answers by ourselves, without the help of a search engine. I believe we would benefit from asking other people, doing some research by digging in books, tinkering, or just thinking for ourselves. Try the old and scary "do nothing and just sit there in silence, thinking."
Moving away from Google forced me to use just a bit more of my neurons. Nothing crazy. For instance, since the switch to DuckDuckGo, I tend to get answers to my questions less quickly than before, because DuckDuckGo isn't as good as Google yet. So I have to do a little more research and thinking. But that's exactly the point.