Why telling people to ‘Stop Googling’ is NOT an option
I say it, I say to people ‘don’t just google stuff’ and I really, passionately mean it. Googling stuff sometimes leads to mass confusion and panic or to over-inflated egos caused by googlers being so pleased with all of the ‘facts’ that have found and remembered. So why, in light of the above am I now saying that I was wrong to try to get people to stop? Because people won’t stop and we just have to get over it.
This post was prompted by something tragic. I got up this morning and read of an 18-year-old girl who, after feeling ill had found herself in the medical system of the UK searching for a diagnosis and treatment plan. As with many 18 year olds when the pain got worse and the answers didn’t seem to be fitting she started googling her symptoms. She and her family started to wonder if she had a rare type of cancer after tracking down a website for the disease out of America. On raising their concerns with doctors they were told to ‘stop googling’. Now rare cancers are rare, Dr Google can make food poisoning sound like Ebola but sometimes, just sometimes these hunches are right. The girl in question succumbed to her rare stomach cancer.
I’ve come to the conclusion that professionals in white coats are human first and humans have emotion. When an un-qualified (insert your profession) individual questions your professional judgement and seems set on having a disease or situation that is so rare it is not impossible that you’ve never heard of it it’s not that surprising that the initial reaction might be to instantly dismiss it. After all, the doctors in the above scenario may well have seen several patients that day or week with regular stomach ache that are equally convinced they have something terrible and need 8 weeks paid leave from their lives. Even without emotional triggers humans can miss things, can be constrained by a system that they understand maybe a little too much (a hospital can’t afford to just give everyone that walks in all of the tests. A body shouldn’t be subjected to all of the tests all of the time) or can just be victims of their own information deficits.
The medical example above was upsetting to read but it did lead me to reflect on my own interactions between the public and myself (a ‘white coat’). I’m by no means perfect in this regard but after having manned a technical help desk for a good four plus years now I’ve built up plenty of examples of where clients with no technical training or chemical understanding of what they are doing have a ‘feel’ for what they are trying to achieve and have actually stumbled on something right, a solution! Only I understand that they didn’t just clumsily stumble upon this formula fix, they felt their way there by quiet observation, by trying to interpret what the product was telling them, by googling and by trying to apply what they were reading. The saying ‘there is more than one way to skin a cat’ is pretty gross but it is no doubt true. There are many ways to tackle a problem and sometimes those with less (or no) formal training will come to a more creative solution than those of us who can sit and logically map out what might happen then not try this, that or the other idea because we ‘know’ that they probably won’t work, aren’t ‘normal’ pathways to the solution we seek.
I’m not saying that formal training is useless or that googling and feeling is amazing but what I am saying is this, none one of us can know what we don’t know. Formal training is a scaffold to get you higher up a ‘thing’ and it also acts as a guide but formal training is not the be all and end all, it’s just a tool and not the destination. Googling is just one of a number of ways of satisfying our curiosity. Of seeking, searching, investigating and navigating our way. The best way to problem solve is with a combination of framework plus curiosity. Apply a structured, frame worked knowledge with passion, feeling and latitude. I regularly come across people who have swallowed the dictionary of ‘fact’ but have no feeling for their subject and consequently can’t produce anything new or interesting. As professionals in any field we should be excited and open to trying new things, be willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with another perspective and be ready to embrace creativity.
Cosmetic chemistry doesn’t save lives necessarily but today, in reading and responding to this story I’ve been reminded that an open, investigative mind can. And google can sometimes help with that.