Monday, November 20, 2006


"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. In India, I remember hearing these words often in a talk. 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), which is a standard tool these days, and which was awarded the Nobel prize this year. 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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep. interesting. I was just thinking how, to google really reduces the
literacy in people. They do not have to open a book and read and persue a subject of interest other that the "surface of a subject"

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, have been guilty of turning to the google gods too often myself. the scary part is how misinformed one can end up becoming, if they rely on the internet for everything instead of opening a book..(or asking an expert ;))

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Prashanth said...

Lets face it... GOOG was created with a very very evil motive. (forget their do no evil policy). The purpose of GOOG+WiFi to exterminate all social skills from the human race.

5:34 AM  
Blogger Ashish Gupta said...

If I would answer like that, which I admit I do, it is because unless questioner shows real interest in knowing the answer - implied and demostrated by his willingness to do some homework and search beforehand - why should I waste my time answering that? It's like you want to save your time by not doing minimal of homework (aka googling) and want speaker to spent time educating you. It shows disrespect towards the person whom you are seeking answers from. That is what I think, and know a few who do to.

Via desipundit. First time.


4:18 PM  

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