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

It transpires Ealing central library is located inside the Ealing Broadway shopping center. After a speculative wander, I find a sign, then another, directing me to the first floor. The library, it turns out, is closed — not for the afternoon, or the day, but since August, for renovations.

FRIDAY

I don’t know what to do with myself. What is the point of having a computer if you can’t look things up on Google? Yes, I do have some work to do, but the days of deprivation have done nothing to restore my attention span. In the afternoon, a slim package arrives: my long-awaited coffee machine part, essentially a knob. Thanks to Google, it is the precise knob for my model, but it’s missing the small plastic insert that was the actual broken bit. Without it, the knob is useless.

At this point I feel very close to quitting the experiment because I really want that plastic sleeve. With a heavy heart, I pull the invoice from the bin, ring the number on it and listen to eight minutes of hold music. Eventually, a woman, Vivienne, picks up. I describe my problem.

“It’s a little plastic piece, like a sleeve,” I say.

“No idea what that would be,” she says. “Can you find a picture of it and give me the model number?”

“I can’t get online,” I say.

“That’s fine,” she says. “What about an e-mail address?”

“Yes,” I say. “I’m allowed e-mail.”

She sends me an exploded illustration of my coffee machine with all the parts numbered.

“I don’t see it there, Vivienne,” I say. “Unless it’s embedded in the knob.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to call the manufacturer,” she says.

“Do you want the number?”

The manufacturer answers with a recording telling me that the service department is closed on Friday afternoons.

SATURDAY

It’s probably fair to say that Google is inescapable, unless you resign yourself to getting nowhere without it. I spent so much of my week being either lost or bewildered, when the basic solution to my immediate problem might have been at my fingertips.

But it wasn’t a waste. I got almost nothing done, but, while I was out there, I did a lot of looking and I bought a lot of stuff. I even found a version of that jacket I liked in a shop, for a third of the price.

Now when it hovers over the Web page I am on, saying: “Buy me!” I’ll be wearing it. I briefly reclaimed the ability to walk through the world with maximum inefficiency, relying on random discoveries, luck, the kindness of strangers and the patience of phone operators.

I return to the e-mail Carr sent me.

“Constant connectivity has become so habitual (and so expected by society) that brief breaks just aren’t going to be sufficient to retrain the brain to relax, resist distraction and concentrate,” he writes. “At this point, the craving for the screen’s stimulations is pretty deeply engrained in most people’s psyches.”

This may be the main problem: Google and the other major platforms have got very good at keeping our attention. The price we pay is endless inattention to the world around us. And that’s not all Google’s fault.

“Thanks to some combination of laziness, gullibility and vanity, we have proven ourselves all too eager to embrace a culture of distraction and dependency,” said Carr. “We could have said no.”

One of the great impositions of modern life is the obligation to go everywhere forewarned and forearmed, to access timetables, reviews and instructions ahead of even the simplest tasks, for the sake of a frictionless existence. Once, it was creepy to Google someone just before you knew you were going to meet them. Now it’s sort of required.

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