Google, Wikipedia, and the internet are so great for learning – it’s an external brain, a vast repository of knowledge. For dates, Latin phrases, names, movements, and so on, the internet is astounding. I remember being an undergraduate student struggling to read Barth’s theology and its many terms and Latin phrases, and being so lost. The internet would have provided such a resource for me! Alas, it had not been invented yet.
The great temptation of the internet, though, is to use it as a substitute for our thinking. I see this in so many places – in student writing, public school curriculum nights, and people’s general attitudes. Knowledge has become more of a resourcing than a comprehending and communicating. Public school teachers give us website resources (that then mine us for data). Sunday School teachers show clips from the internet. Students turn to the internet for help in writing papers (we did a version of this, when we as students started a paper with a quote from the dictionary or the encyclopedia, but those resources were much more limited!). While the internet as a resource is not wrong, it is wrong when it substitutes and overwhelms our own thinking and expression. It’s wrong to just use the internet because we are lazy.
The trick is, when are we overusing the internet? That’s a hard line to define, as with many things. It’s why it comes down to taste, which is not just personal taste but a common understanding. We have to develop a good palate for the internet, for its judicious use and quotation. There’s a point where it overwhelms us, just as there is a point where the icing overwhelms the cake. It’s about balance, and education is partly about learning that balance, to have that proper sense of taste. When we are using the internet’s knowledge as a substitute – when we are cribbing from it – then we have gone too far.