Yesterday, somebody asked me what a hermit crab is. I told them to look it up.
Today, in a group chat full of IT people, I asked what I should know if I wanted to create my own web page. They told me to look it up.
In both of these scenarios, those who had been asked knew the answer but refused to share it. Instead, the enquirer was directed to the vast search space of the Internet. On their own. With no support.
On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with directing someone to look for their own answers. You may save a couple of minutes of your valuable time and they may learn how to formulate better search queries, overcome their learned helplessness, and find what they were looking for.
On the other hand…
Directing the asker to a search engine diminishes the connection two human beings could have had when discussing the problem. Instead of conversing, debating and benefiting from the helper’s expertise in the field, the enquirer is forced to dive into an ocean of impersonal web pages, blogs, and articles. They may find what they were looking for, but little dialogue will arise. It will be a one-way channel with no actual exchange of ideas, no possibility to start a conversation based on the follow-up questions.
Furthermore, facing the Endless Mountains of Information can be quite frightening, especially for a beginner in the field. It is easy to get lost and feel overwhelmed. Depending on the personality, facing such difficulties may lead to the individual losing interest, giving up, and, thus, missing out on a potential self-development journey.
Last, but not least, teaching others teaches you. By sharing the expertise, participating in the discussion, and explaining things that you may find elementary, you not only reinforce what you know, but also practice communication and leadership skills. In addition, keep in mind that you may be a role model and an inspirational figure for the person who turned to you with their dilemma. Do not send them away. Invite them to your community and help them.
Next time someone asks me a question, I will not tell them to look it up. I will answer it.