At work, I asked what makes a picnic a picnic, is it the fact that its outside? I then preceded to google it and found:

A picnic is a meal taken outdoors as part of an excursion.

Which I said to those I was having a conversation with. A colleague (who didn't grow up with Google) asked if I had just googled that, to which I said yes. They asked if this was a generational thing, and why do we always feel the need to google something? I suggested that maybe it's because I mostly grew up with it and learnt how to use it as my source of information, which wouldn't have been their case.

It feels as though I'm being looked down upon when this sort of thing is asked, as if it's a bad thing to do. I would like to portray that this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

To summarise, I'm asking:

How to express that using external-knowledge tools (such as Google) is a respectable way of finding information

I would like to be polite in my response.

I'm from the UK and would be classified as a Millennial.

  • 1
    Some people forget that 'real-life experience' and Googling something are both ways of gaining knowledge; you're just more likely to learn certain things using one method over the other.
    – user8671
    Jun 14, 2018 at 14:28
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this seems to be a phrasing request.
    – kscherrer
    Jun 14, 2018 at 14:44
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    To me, the underlying question "how to handle the age related different mindset regarding the use of web search" is really interesting. But it is not about interpersonal communication. More like psychology or sociology. Jun 14, 2018 at 15:43
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    Seems like a reasonable question - How do I politely convince my elders that the external-knowledge tools of my generation are respectable? What methods are useful for relaying my message given their mocking behavior? I recommend humorous anecdote. The humor helps defuse the situation and the anecdote supports your position. You earn respect with measured responses to their jibes. Change the subject with a segue at the end. Something like "3000 years ago, Plato complained that writing would induce forgetfulness. Civilization send to be doing ok. Except for that whole Brexit thing." Jun 15, 2018 at 0:23
  • 1
    @LoftyWithers I've used the wording of the question you phased in hopes of a re-open since this is the essence of my original question. Jun 15, 2018 at 10:13

4 Answers 4


Go to basic principles and analogies

Ask the person who questions why someone would 'Google' anything if they have ever gone to a library to obtain some knowledge that they did not possess before. If so, ask them if they think internet services like Google Books have improved access to books and information. If they say 'yes' then you can say that digitization of such books has afforded people the luxury of not having to take a prolonged trip to the library in order to access the same books (however, see real-life caveats below). This could be A) cost saving if fuel would need to be consumed to get to the library, and B) time saving, since it is also faster than physically going to a library. If they concede that then they have conceded the value of the internet and digital resources being searchable online.

How much and what kind of knowledge are you really obtaining?

However, there is the flip side question of the quality of the resources you are accessing and also whether 'quick lookups' do anyone any good in terms of how much knowledge you are obtaining. This goes as much for physical resources as digital resources.

As for amount of knowledge and the time expended obtaining it, consider the following scenario. If you did not study for an upcoming history exam and went to a brick & mortar library and cracked a book on the subject that you are to be tested on for only 10-15 minutes would you expect to understand the material comprehensively? Would you even hope to understand it accurately, if you were reading summaries rather than specific and detailed facts? I would expect not. Yet some will spend only that amount of time or less when reading internet resources.

Then there is the quality of knowledge element. For example, There is a significant difference between accessing a common public encyclopedia open to being edited by anyone, such as Wikipedia, and accessing online journal repositories like JSTOR geared towards academic research. I too would provide critique of anyone who thinks they can simply peruse Wikipedia on a non-trivial subject and then claim they've adequately got a handle on a subject, especially a subject of academic investigation and research. One anecdote could be that Ph.D. Dissertations are not based off of citations of Wikipedia but more often peer reviewed literature which is not always free or readily accessible.

Free or pay-for knowledge?

On the topic of "free" knowledge (both in terms of access and price) this brings up another point. As wonderful as the internet is it is a complete myth that for any subject of relevance there is an educational resource completely available on the internet for it. Only a small fraction of the world's books have been digitized, stored, and made accessible (although Google Books and HathiTrust have done wonders in that department). Being someone who researches rather niche academic subjects myself, I find myself spending several hundred dollars a year purchasing books which have knowledge which is not yet freely accessible on the internet. Also, even with the availability of pirated books (legal issues aside), if all college text books (say) were available online for free then few would pay for expensive hard copy books, and the college book industry would collapse (not to mention all book sellers as well: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, etc.).

That is all to say, much knowledge is still locked away in physical copy books and other materials which cannot be found on the internet, whether or not they are free to access (at your local library) or are "behind a paywall" (books you must purchase to obtain access to). Therefore, anyone who thinks that they have access to the entire sum of human knowledge just by having access to the internet has not been paying attention and in fact has been infected by a bit of hubris no doubt, falling victim to misinformation and naiveté.

Oh, but how I wish it weren't so, for then I wouldn't have to break the bank to purchase academic books which have specialized knowledge locked away in them.

Just another tool

So, with all this under consideration I would summarize by saying that internet is simply a tool for what humans have always been doing: obtaining knowledge. As such is neither more nor less respectable than ways of doing so that do not involve modern digital technology.

In the end, think interpersonally and contextually

If running to grab an actual book to gather information in the middle of a discussion might, in fact, be disruptive then there is a chance that even the far quicker access of digital data might do the same. That being the case, that may be why some people get annoyed and wonder if people can't "think for themselves" and have to (as they perceive it) always run to an external source.

However, if the discussion is not regarding a matter of purely abstract reasoning based on prior knowledge and is in fact dealing with empirical facts then you can try to justify the access of potential sources of facts on the internet that are relevant to the topic at hand. So, in the end, there is no blanket endorsement or prohibition that should be given for using such tools in a discussion and it will vary based on each circumstance and also depending on how socially agreeable or polite you wish to be.


There is no need to convince anyone, and there is not the slightest chance to convince them. If someone doesn’t like googling, just let them be. You have no chance to change their mind.

That was the title of your question. Inside your question you pose this very differently. You don’t want to convince them, you want them to accept your point of view. Being in the UK, I would consider it polite while expressing your viewpoint to say: “If you don’t want to use Google, that’s up to you, but don’t blame me for using the internet to find out things.”

  • 3
    I wouldn't say "don't blame me for" that is actually quite aggressive "but I do" will suffice.
    – WendyG
    Jun 15, 2018 at 15:29

How to express that external-knowledge tools (such as Google) is a respectable way of finding information?

There are various means to acquire information, each has drawbacks and advantages.

To use your picnic example, someone asks: "What is a picnic?". How can you obtain an answer?

  • Go to school, take courses appropriate to gain expertise, tell them your answer and convince them why you are correct. You would need to convince them that the school you went to is well respected on the subject matter in question, that the courses you chose are correct and that you spent enough years in school to know about this.

  • Show them a few real life examples and counter-examples, explain each to them. You still need to convince them that your examples are representative and your explanations are correct.

  • Use a Search Tool, find a few expert opinions, provide a link. This is the fastest method for you (if you are skilled in Internet research) but they might still need some convincing. Fortunately the tool to research and communicate is in their hands, they can agree or provide a counter-link. Written and visual explanations by experts can be found quickly and presented easily.

Some subjects require specific education and specific standards of proof, for example "The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide" in their article "Legal research on the Internet" explains:

Finding legal information

Legal research on the Internet is best conducted using specialized sites with legal content, rather than conducting searches of the web using a general search engine such as Google. The leading Canadian site is CanLII. This is a collection of the case law and legislation from all Canadian jurisdictions, with several value-added features. DRAGNET is a custom Google search of selected legal sites developed by the library staff at New York Law School.

Some courts prevent their judgments from being indexed by general search engines for privacy reasons, so decisions of those courts will not be located in a Google search. In addition, decisions on CanLII are not indexed by general search engines. As a result, a general search engine will not retrieve this type of legal information. Furthermore, the scope and currency of the indexed content will be uncertain if you use a general search engine.

Despite these drawbacks, you may find it worthwhile to augment your legal research with some searches in a general search engine to locate material such as law firm newsletters, company information, news articles, blog posts, government publications and Google book search results that pertain to your research.

Let's try your example question using an Internet search: "What is a picnic?"

As you can see it's fast and often but not always correct.

  • Textual Google Search:

    • pic·nic/ˈpikˌnik/

      noun - an outing or occasion that involves taking a packed meal to be eaten outdoors.

      verb - have or take part in a picnic.

    • Wikipedia > Picnic:

      A picnic is a meal taken outdoors as part of an excursion – ideally in scenic surroundings, such as a park, lakeside, or other place affording an interesting view, or else in conjunction with a public ...

    • WiseGeek > What is a Picnic Ham? (with pictures) - wiseGEEK

      A picnic ham, also called a pork shoulder, is an American specialty especially popular throughout New England. Though not technically actual hams, the meat goes through a smoking process that gives them a similar taste.

    See the problem with that result? - It's not a picnic, it's not even ham; though it's called a "picnic ham" - sometimes you need to: understand English, use your brain, and do further research.

    • Sunny Picnic Website > What is a picnic? – Sunny Picnic

      Every year, countless crowds gather to parks to picnic. Families gather together for games of catch and Frisbee.

      Couples unpack picnic baskets filled with lunches and wine for a romantic date. Groups of friends gather to break bread on the warm, summer lawn.

      The picnic is a staple of the summertime. But what is a picnic? Where did this summertime activity originate?

    Notice that site doesn't get to the explanation directly, you need to spend some time reading and absorbing the information before you can decide to accept or dismiss it as a creditable source.

  • Image-based Google Search:

What is a picnic?

As you can determine for yourself: Not every problem is a nail, nor every tool a hammer.

Give them a brief demonstration of how it works so they have some knowledge to make an informed decision. It's not necessarily the duty of the one providing the explanation to ensure that the listener listens and understands what is being said.


All information of this type is derived from external references. Either a person has built up an association through repeated co-occurrence of things (like the word picnic and a checkered blanket, basket of food, and being outdoors all combining to suggest that those things constitute a picnic), or they looked it up in a dictionary and then remember the result of consulting that external reference.

Googling is not any different from these, especially that latter. What is different is the scope of information which can be searched and, with the availability of data-connected smartphones, the immediacy with which those references can be consulted in any given situation. So your example might have been resolved with a comment like

"What better way to find what defines a picnic than looking up the definition of the word? I didn't have a physical dictionary handy, so I used a digital one."

I can't say anything about people in general (or in your specific case here), but it's unlikely that the act of consulting an external reference is what prompts responses like these. I submit that it is far more likely that the response is due to the frequency of such consultations, the triviality of the things being looked up, the apparent absence of "common knowledge" that they expect anyone to have in society, or something similar which causes reactions like the one you describe.

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