Look It Up

Paul Campos at LGM bemoans people who, despite having Google at their fingertips, are seemingly unable to use that tool. This reminds me of something that happened at work a while back.

We tried to hire paralegals using skills testing. We plopped applicants down in front of a computer and gave them a skills test — 1) paste a paragraph of text e-mail from an attorney into a complaint while preserving the formatting; 2) rename a .pdf file from something like “fax01193933.pdf” to something like “letter from Smith to Jones.pdf”; and 3) find a piece of information, such as the straight-line distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Out of about twenty people who all claimed to have superior computer skills, only one was able to see that the e-mail was written in a different font than the complaint. This one also knew how to rename a file, but did not know how to do it in the way that any one had thought. None even bothered to open up a web browser to even search for the requested information.

The other lawyers and I sat around, flabbergasted at so many apparently qualified people unable to complete what seemed to the rest of us to be such simple tasks. When I complained to The Wife about this, she suggested that maybe the reason no one bothered to look up the information on the internet was that it might have felt like “cheating.” A good thought, but I don’t think that was what was going on, and Prof. Campos’ experience dovetails into my cynicism.

Here’s my question to you Readers: We plopped our applicants down in front of computers and tasked them with this instruction: “Find the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco.” No one, including people with college degrees, was able to accomplish this task. Now had our instruction on the skills test been “Use the internet to find the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco,” would we have got any better results than we did?

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. My son who is 12 can do all those things. And would have thought to do them. And in fact would have delivered a detailed lecture on why this or that software would be infinitely superior to whatever you’re using. Then, unfortunately he would have made that condescending geek-talking-to-luddites face, rolled his eyes and muttered something about you all being idiots.He’s just finishing a web site for an Italian vacation rental and is starting work on my wife’s next powerpoint.My point is: maybe you should hire a 12 year old.

  2. Better results, maybe, but I think the results you got were pretty useful in their own way.I assume that those were not the only three skills you tested.Elsewise, I totally should have become a paralegal.

  3. I get many, many requests for information from partners and associates. After initial attempts at courtesy, I now liberally use the wwww.letmegooglethatforyou.com and, in extreme cases, a picture of Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction with the caption “GOOGLE, MOTHERFUCKER, DO YOU USE IT?”

  4. Nice post. My wife doesn’t even use the address bar anymore she types urls straight into Google.

  5. You know that comment I leave every once in a while on the main page that generalizes to, “people aren’t good at using computers”?



Comments are closed.