Sunday, January 13, 2008

But Google Told Me So...

The verb to google is a high-frequency verb in my vocabulary. And googling is a high-frequency activity as well.
I gmail and basically think it’s the best service I’ve ever had. I’m also a blogger, both services being google-powered.
So, having said that, I think I can comment a bit on what I call ‘googlized behavior.’
In many a conversation, my friend, Liam and I bring up google references. I mentioned to him a while back how quite often I get emails from people who write saying things like, “so, uh, I googled you and this is the email address that popped up. So, uh, yes, how goes it?”
Liam says that at times when he wonders about what certain people he knows are up to, he turns to our friend, the google. And he gets some info. Hence, google plays the role of the reliable friend who almost always has the 411 on everyone and everybody.
However, the google experience is not the same for every onomastic designation. “Try having a name like Maggie May,” says my good friend, Maggie May, when I discuss this new entry with her. “Then a rock song written by a Brit about some other girl named Maggie May takes over. And then it’s millions of entries about some other person/character that pop up. Just where is my own version of ‘Maggie May?’ " she wonders out loud.
The discussion I just had with Maggie on the topic relates closely to the premise of this entry.
Google cannot provide absolute answers. It’s just a search engine. It can enumerate, perhaps, the work and creative activities of one, but it does not contain much else about the true physiognomy of one. Which is what most ‘healthies,’ my term for well-adjusted individuals, have in mind when googling most topics. One needs to have realistic expectations when googling.
I remember having this thought when I read a Time article about patients who are obsessed with über-detailed research about their doctors.
Here are some snippets from it:
“We had never met, but as we talked on the phone I knew she was Googling me. The way she drew out her conjunctions, just a little, that was the tip off — stalling for time as new pages loaded. It was barely audible, but the soft click-click of the keyboard in the background confirmed it. Oh, well, it's the information age. Normally, she'd have to go through my staff first, but I gave her an appointment.

Susan had chosen me because she had researched my education, read a paper I had written, determined my university affiliation and knew where I lived. It was a little too much — as if she knew how stinky and snorey I was last Sunday morning. Yes, she was simply researching important aspects of her own health care. Yes, who your surgeon is certainly affects what your surgeon does. But I was unnerved by how she brandished her information, too personal and just too rude on our first meeting.

I knew Susan was a Googler — queen, perhaps, of all Googlers. But I couldn't dance with this one. I couldn't even get a word in edgewise. So, I cut her off. I punted. I told her there was nothing I could do differently than her last three orthopedists, but I could refer her to another who might be able to help. A certain Dr. Brown, whom I'd known as a resident, had been particularly interested in her type of knee problem.
Disappointed and annoyed, Susan stopped for a beat.
"You mean Larry Brown on Central Avenue?"
"Uh, yes —" I started.
"I have an appointment with him on Friday. And, Dr. Haig?" she said…."
Read the full feature here.

Ergo, while ‘the google machine’ is wonderful, it has its limits. Google cannot provide the kinds of answers one can only get from face-to-face communication. Sorry, cyber-ites, quite often I privilege the spoken work.
It’s after all a long philosophical discussion that has not yet been resolved. What is primary, the written or the spoken word?
From Plato to Derrida, we have no verdict yet.
So, if I want to know how my friend is doing, I will simply have to call him up even though thousands of links have the 411 on him. The links don’t know that he has the flu and is feeling a bit squeamish this morning.


Anonymous said...

It is quite a thing to have someone insist that they know something about you better that you do about yourself. 'But Google says that you did this and that at this and that time.'
'Oh, ok, if Google says it, then fine.'
The Time article you hyperlinked was fascinating.
One more reason to pursue something else other than medicine.

Anonymous said...

Moderation, moderation. Some of us never learn how to control the level of our expectations. A search engine can only do so much. I do see new concepts like google, or any kind of search engine for that matter, as a way of keeping us all in check. Information comes with many other attachments, one of them being responsibility......

Anonymous said...

being able to google though is such a gift.
basically anything i'd want to know is just one keyword away.
and hopefully most people know that just by knowing something about something is not enough to have 'strong' opinions about that something....

Unknown said...

i think i google at least twenty times a day. the google page is also my home page.
and yet it feels weird to read up on certain things. i don't understand what that guilt is all about..... voyerism, peut etre?

Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to promote my coined neo-logism "google-ganger" for those twins that show up when your name is googled. Some people will have oodles others few or none.