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

“Think of it as a complete set of rails laid out in front of you and designed to keep you engaged by exposing you to a number of different approaches.”

I think about a jacket I searched for last week, which I decided was too expensive, and which haunted every Web page I visited afterwards, floating above the text I was reading as if to say: look what you forgot to buy.

As the authors point out, there is a reason I had this miraculous, free, search facility — and all the knowledge it could locate — at my fingertips.

“The equation is actually very simple if you look at it as a reversal of the traditional vendor-consumer relationship,” they write. “Your attention is the commodity.” Competition for my attention is fierce, and the result is that I am inattentive to almost everything else. As the book reminds me, before the advent of smartphones “most of us could hold 20 or even 50 phone numbers in our head”. Today, I know precisely four: my parents’ home phone — unchanged for 55 years; my dad’s office number — not in use for 15; my wife’s mobile; and mine.

WEDNESDAY

A Guardian photographer follows me while I navigate through London with my A-Z, but I can tell he is frustrated and wants to use his phone. I keep dropping things into the conversation such as: “I wonder how you go about getting a British Library card?” hoping he might be able to tell me. I think about what my son said — “You just had to hope someone else knew” — and I realize my primary research tool was, and still is, the stupid question. When you ask Google, nobody has to hear.

It’s the day of my wife’s proposed cinema visit, and 118 connects me to the cinema chain’s recorded phone menu, which refers me to the Web site for film times and hangs up on me. I ring back and select the booking option. After a 10-minute wait, I am connected to a charming woman who seems to have nothing but time. She runs me through the whole film schedule twice, and describes the interior of the cinema in some detail so I can choose my seats. I have a little trouble making up my mind.

“No worries at all,” she says. “Is there a card in your name we’ll be popping this on to?” I can’t figure out why she’s being so patient, until I realize she’s assuming I am very old. Otherwise, I would be doing this online.

That evening, following her precise instructions, I show my credit card to the man at the popcorn till. He looks up my name and prints out my tickets. “It’s like shopping by candlelight,” I say.

THURSDAY

At a small library I run across by accident, I make a random discovery: in a thick binder labeled “local info” is a book that contains the addresses of every library in the country. I take a picture of the listing for my local main branch — Ealing central library — and head off.

Navigating by A-Z again is an eye-opener. You need to keep your head up to read street signs and posted bus routes, and there are still plenty of “now what?” moments, not least when I get off the bus where the library is supposed to be, and there is nothing remotely library-shaped on the horizon.

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