Mon, Apr 22, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Would life be happier without Google?

People had to get by without the search engine giant before it was launched in 1998. But is it possible to live your life — and do your job — without it these days?

By Tim Dowling  /  The Guardian

Google receives 63,000 searches every second, about two trillion a year, accounting for more than 90 percent of the global search engine market. It is said that the average person performs three to four searches a day, but a glance through my browser history before shutting Google down shows I regularly exceed 20. Many of these are purposeful; many more are not.

Two weeks ago, I found and ordered the precise replacement part I needed for my broken coffee machine. But I also searched for the name of someone I’d met the night before; a definition of China’s One Belt One Road development strategy; a catflap door; a list of Balkan cities (cheating at a crossword); the local recycling timetable; what toothwort is; and “Yul Brynner as robot with face plate removed.”

For my own sanity, I need a break.

MONDAY

When I moved house two years ago, I started to rely on Google for navigation. Now, I am utterly dependent. I don’t just want to know the way — I want to know the best way, as of this minute. I can’t remember the last time I gave a thought to where anything was.

“How do I buy an A-Z?” I ask my wife.

“I don’t even know that you can,” she says. I think: Google would know.

A-Zs are still widely available, as I discover after I take the bus to the closest bookshop on my severely depleted mental map. While I am there, I run across a book called Offline — which promises to help me “avoid the potentially disastrous side-effects of digital pollution.”

I am reminded how big a role serendipitous discovery used to play in pre-Google research.

On the way home, I drop by my nearest library for the first time. It is a tiny branch, and the computing section is mostly dedicated to programming manuals, a fair number with the words “for Dummies” in the title. Everybody else in the room is looking at Google. I am sure this borough has a bigger central branch, but I have no idea where it is. An A-Z only works with an address. You can’t just look up “library.”

Later, I find my son in the kitchen, making tea. He was born in 1999, so he has never known a world without Google.

“So, it’s the first day of my week without Google,” I tell him.

“You’re switching search engines?” he asks.

“No, that’s not the point,” I say.

“What is the point?”

“The point is to remember what it was like before,” I say. “You have no idea how people used to find out stuff.”

“You just had to hope someone else knew,” he says.

“There were systems in place,” I say, “of which you know nothing.”

“Without Google, the issue was how to get the answer,” he says.

“With Google, the issue is the answer.”

“Let’s say you wanted to know about brain surgery,” I say.

“First, you would ...” I stop there. I can’t remember.

TUESDAY

I spend the morning in my home office, unsure about how to proceed with, well, anything. Once again, I ask myself: how did this work in 1997?

I remember that, back then, I bought three or more newspapers every day, and kept all the copies until the end of the week. I still have a basic printed reference library — dictionaries of biography, film, literature, etymology, quotations, etc — but nothing has been updated for 20 years. I once owned a handy encyclopedia on CD-Rom, but that went the way of the CD-Rom drive.

For reassurance, I return to the book I bought — Offline, by Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner — which explains that while Google may be great for finding facts and coffee machine parts, its primary purpose is to deliver me to advertisers, as part of a system designed to make sure I am never not shopping.

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