Does Google think it knows everything? Does humanity think Google has all the answers? Both these would be good examples of an ungoogleable question.
Many of us are becoming increasingly used to turning straight to Google when we want the answer to something and expecting an immediate answer. But what’s this doing to our brains, and to the ways we seek out knowledge?
Whilst everyone’s learning from home, it’s been easy to use Google as a nifty shortcut to getting quick answers to questions we’d otherwise need to have a bit of background knowledge to attempt.
For example, you can easily find Google the answer to ‘what is 1,260 divided by 102’ without having to know what long division is. You can even just Google ‘what is long division?’
But an ungoogleable question is one that you won’t, or can’t, get an instant and simple answer from by Googling it.
You might have to break the question down, work out the smaller questions you’ll need to ask to piece it together, and, importantly, work out why the question might not be so simple in the first place – what other skills, contexts and backgrounds does the question encourage in the attempt to answer it.
Our top 5 ungoogleable questions are all examples designed to illustrate the ways in which we can’t simply rely on Google to make sense of everything, and are useful for anyone – parents, teachers – who are keen to get their kids thinking laterally, critically, and independently of the ubiquitous search engine.
Why are Ungoogleable Questions Important?
Ungoogleable questions are crucial because they teach patience and help a student work out how it is they learn.
They encourage the ability to think laterally, and the perseverance to appreciate that you can puzzle your way out of problems: it’s not just an instant ‘win or lose’.
Ungoogleable questions are also vital in demonstrating how, where and why Google is limited, and how you can’t always get what you need from it. These kinds of questions teach us how Google does – or often more importantly does not – think.
Working through these five questions is a great thing to do with young people, to remind them that the internet is a resource, but not a brain in itself.
Like going into a library, you’ve got to know where to look and what kinds of books to pull down, and therefore you’ve got to think about the implications of the question you’re solving, and how it can be broken down.
Our Top 5 Ungoogleable Questions
1. How many ants would it take to lift the Taj Mahal?
This ungoogleable question is a great example of how to approach a seemingly difficult query by breaking it down into its composite parts, as well as how Google can help with those smaller questions quickly and efficiently.
What are the smaller questions you have to ask yourself to solve this one? How much weight can a single ant carry? How heavy is the Taj Mahal? How to multiply X by Y?
In the process, you’ll be doing a bit of zoology, a bit of geography, history and maths. Ticks all the boxes!
2. If a robot creates a painting, can it be called art?
Sometimes an ungoogleable question entails a bit of philosophising. The question here is not ‘can robots make art’ – and there’s an important difference, there.
To answer this question, you’ll have to do some digging into the types of philosophical response surrounding art and AI, and more broadly, around what makes something a work of art in the first place. Does it have to be made by a human?
That means this ungoogleable question encourages an important critical faculty: the ability to gather information, arguments and opinions from a variety of different sources, and then begin to think for yourself on which aspects of the argument you agree with, and which you might want to change altogether.
3. What will happen tomorrow in Beijing?
Sometimes an ungoogleable question can have the same ring to it as a riddle: how can you use Google to predict the future? It’ll certainly get your young ones intrigued.
We like this one because not only does it encourage searching answers across a range of disciplines and subjects – What’s the weather like there? What’s the political climate like? Is there a national or historical holiday? – but it also gets kids thinking about the different media sources they’ll engage with to find out what’s been going in Beijing.
And, in turn, which ones they want to trust most to help them work out their answer.
4. Which river has made the most amount of money for a single country?
Rivers flow through and unite so many different disciplines, topics and academic subjects. They’re border crossers, forces of nature, reflections of a society, historically or religiously charged with significance. They link the past, the present and the future.
In tackling this ungoogleable question, you’ll be thinking through questions of politics, religion, colonialism, climate change and biodiversity. You’ll be sure to learn something surprising along the way.
5. Is it possible to make yourself completely ungoogleable?
A cheeky one to finish, but one that the Gen Z’ers are increasingly interested in. There’s something fun and subversive about trying to use Google to defeat itself, too, and raises awareness of the paradox that we often use Google to try and get away from it – be it by finding books or podcasts or tv shows that’ll teach us what it cannot.
This question should get you ranging across a number of internet frontiers like data management, privacy policies, the power of Big Tech and the seemingly indispensable nature it has in our modern-day lives.
But we like this one because there’s a sort-of shadow question that crops up as soon as you start trying to answer it: is it worth seeking to be ungoogleable in this day and age?
It’s crucial to get young ones asking these kinds of questions, and working out their boundaries when it comes to the use and dependency on these tech giants, because nothing will have a greater effect on the way they learn about the world in the coming years, and there’s no sign that Google is going away.
It’s important we all stay refreshed and engaged whilst learning from home. If you would like help with inspiring your child, please get in touch with the Minerva team.