Field of Science

Of course I can google it, but...

"If someone is interested in the details, I will be happy to talk to them later"...these words of mine in a group meeting presentation were met with amusement and subdued smirking. I was puzzled. I remember hearing these words often a few years ago in talks. They made me feel happy, because they seemed to indicate that the speaker was genuinely interested in explaining the fine points, and indeed even the general points of his talk later to those who were interested. So what had changed between then and now? Two factors I think among others: Google, and Powerpoint.

Powerpoint allows you to display a long list of references with the tacit assumption that the audience will scan and memorize them instantaneously. Surely all the references you need will be in there. So for details, just look into those.

Google made avoiding human communication even more easy. Some experience that I have supports this. Let's say someone was talking about a project that involved RNA interference (RNAi). I would cringe asking them "What is RNAi?", because more than once I have received the response, "O RNAi...that's...why don't you google it?" Well, of course I can google it, but it's not a crime to sometimes yearn for human communication. In 'older' times, the speaker knew that you would have to probably go to the library and browse through books to get such a question answered. To save you that trouble, he or she would take out a few minutes to answer your question. Even today, there are a few speakers who are gracious enough to be patient and try to answer even a general question by taking a few minutes. But the percentage is alarmingly dwindling, even those who are willing to talk to you in detail later. If you want to ask them about the direct details of their research, fine. If it's something general, you can always...

I understand of course, the enormous benefits of having Google and the internet at your fingertips, which in fact allow you to instantly access such information. Interestingly, it works both ways; today in a presentation, a colleague highlighted a drug for tuberculosis, a well-known antibiotic. I was tempted to ask her what protein target in the tuberculosis bacterium it targets. But I was stricken with the 'information at your fingertips syndrome'; why should I ask her that if I could get the information right away from Al Gore's information superhighway? (This syndrome has also led more people googling in presentations than paying attention to the talk)

Naturally, Google is God. But I wonder if human communication in presentations has been stifled because of the tacit assumption on the part of both speaker and audience, that they can always google it. As for me, I still love to say "If someone is interested in the details, I will be happy to talk to them later" as a catch-all phrase, and I think I am going to continue doing so. For the sake of good old fashioned banter, if not anything else.


  1. Why do you still want to ask the speaker if your question is general enough to be googled? My answer is: because I think the speaker is profoundly great and he must be able to answer a general question exceptionally - this is always a wonderful experience. If he or she can answer the question just like google can, why need I ask?

  2. PS. Google should not be the God. Wikipedia should. Most scientific key words searched in Google are only well explained in the search result from; sometimes, but it just copies from wikipedia.

  3. I agree. That should be a good test for a speaker!


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