As a self-proclaimed Google-holic, I was thrilled to find this article recently on the evolution of Google Search since it started in 1996 as a research project. There’s a fascinating six minute video on the subject, which you can watch here:
There’s also a very useful timeline which, frankly, I totally love. (I’m all about chronology). I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a fascinating look at the change not only in how we find data, but how we think.
Over the past fifteen years I’ve developed a theory about how Google has changed the way we think and the way we know stuff. I’m sure I’m not unique in this. It goes something like this:
Around 15 – 20 years ago (less for some of us), we knew things. I can clearly recall having loads of useful (and sometimes useless) information in my head, available at a moment’s notice. I could tell you things about history, geography, science, music, English, art, French (not maths!) … even current events, politics, philosophy and many other things. It wasn’t just that I was in school and needed the facts for my big test on Monday. They were readily available at any time. And the more interested I was in a subject, the more I knew. This spilled over into other areas of my life, as well. I knew where stuff was. I could tell you the location of any object I owned, or any place I had been to, with hardly a second’s thought. (And not just because of vague OCD leanings).
Over the years I have noticed a distinct change. It was very subtle at first and in fact seemed more like the addition of extra features – an upgrade, if you will – than an actual change. I began to know how to find things. Where to look. What to ask. It sounds like simple growing up, doesn’t it? Well, let me fast forward a decade or so to illustrate my point. Now, I know pathways to information. I don’t know much at all (and that’s not the result of double-porridge-brain delivered as a side order with two pregnancies). I have detailed pathways to information stored in my brain now. So I no longer remember the difference between dicotyledonous and monocotyledonous (okay, bad example because I do), but I know where to find out. And if you can’t Google the information, it doesn’t exist. Even axolotls are on there, and I really thought I was The Business when I knew what those were.
The point is, I look stuff up on a scale I would never have dreamed of before, despite my addiction to Encyclopaediae. In fact, my children (aged 6 & 9) even ask me too Google anything they don’t know. This very weekend I was asked to Google “how artistic is Daddy”, for genetic research purposes (I am assured).
I’ve veered off track somewhat, but I do have a point. We no longer store data. We store the location of the data. Our brains have become giant data maps, for want of a better word. We know which questions to ask Google to get the information we need, and we long for a similar search function for real life on those miserable days when we can’t find the car keys or our favourite shirt.
It’s happened at such lightning speed that one can’t help but wonder what the final outcome is going to be. Will we know anything, or will be permanently linked to the Net, spouting Wikipediaisms rote, as if they reflected our own thoughts and opininons?