How do I love thee? A letter to Google
When you were born in 1998, I must confess that I preferred your older sibling, AltaVista. I think it was because AltaVista had a rugged, outdoorsy vibe, whereas your slogan, ‘Don’t be evil’, sounded like it was developed by a sanctimonious eight year old.1 Even Forbes agreed with me: ‘Don’t count AltaVista out just yet’, it declared in 2000 – although that should have been the first indication that you’d be around for the long haul, given Forbes’ notoriously bad record in the art of prognostication.2
But over the past twenty-odd years you’ve proved all the doubters wrong: AltaVista and Ask Jeeves are long gone and even your closest competitor, Bing, has a market share of only 8.23%. And contrary to what is regularly insinuated in some quarters, that’s not because you pay Apple and Android millions of dollars to ensure you’re the default search engine on their devices; the truth is that you’re just better. Okay, yes, the US Department of Justice might be suing you under antitrust legislation for subverting competition, but that’s because they don’t understand that the world of search engines operates on the same principle as the Highlander: due to a higher power that no one really understands (least of all fans of the series3), there can be only one.
No one can doubt your commitment to realising humankind’s potential. Because of you, information is at our fingertips and any time we have a question – about anything at all – you’re there to help us answer it. Okay, yes, most of our questions are about what Kim Kardashian looks like popping a bottle of champagne into a glass on her own arse but it’s not your fault that the better angels of our nature turned out to be obsessed with porn. Basically, ‘If Google was a Guy’ is not merely a College Humor sketch but a documentary.4
That said, it’s true that you sometimes get a little zealous in your attempts to help us. For example, the comedian Pete Holmes has likened you to having ‘a drunk know-it-all in your pocket’ and Ben Bailey has likewise compared you to ‘that annoying friend, who’ll never let you finish a story, because he keeps interrupting you, trying to guess the ending’. But you know what? We get the Google we deserve.
We all know that your autocomplete predictions are based on factors such as trending interest and our individual past searches, because you constantly remind us of that fact. So if we get automated suggestions like ‘piss bag’, well, that’s clearly our own fault.5 I mean, no one can doubt the veracity of your claims about how your algorithms work, because look what autocomplete prediction shows up first when I type ‘Google is’. (By the way, you really are the best, Google!)
Plus, you don’t just give us one option to read through, but thousands. To quote Nicholas Carr in his Atlantic article ‘Is Google making us stupid?’, ‘Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski’. Exactly! I mean, thanks to your Google Books function, I’ve read excerpts from literally hundreds of books. Sure, I don’t know how they start or end, and sometimes all that much about the middle either, but the point is that I don’t have to get up out of my chair and actually go to the university library. Besides, everyone knows you don’t have to read the full book to get the gist anyway. Wasn’t it the jazz musician John Coltrane who said ‘start in the middle and work your way outwards’?6
But probably the thing I most love about you is that you keep it real – like that friend I used to go shopping with who could always be relied upon to say things like ‘That outfit does you no favours’. I mean, I don’t go shopping with that friend anymore, but the point is that I know you can be trusted to keep me honest and humble.
For example, we both know that I frequently occasionally do Google searches on my name, purely, of course, for professional reasons – so I can demonstrate the impact of my research to grant agencies, etc., etc. But I love how you always show me the results for Kristen Bell instead. You used to ask ‘Did you mean Kristen Bell?’, but now you just go ahead and offer me naked pictures of Veronica Mars. Even when I type in ‘Kirsten Bell anthropology’, you still bring up stories about her getting ‘anthropological with “The Good Place”’. What would I do without you to remind me of my own insignificance?
So, thanks, Google, for being in my life. You complete me! (I mean, you literally complete me, because you finish every single search query I write.)
P.S. Did you know your name looks like Go Ogle? On behalf of humankind, I think I can say, without qualm or equivocation: mission accomplished!
1 Per chance, did you briefly walk the earth in human form before returning to your Holy Spirit incarnation? If so, I think I met you at a bookshop in Greeley, Colorado in 2001. To refresh your memory, I was with a friend and after hearing me swear,* you responded, and I quote, ‘Ma’am, you’re gonna go to hell for that’.
*Not at you. Well, not initially at you.
2 In 2014, Forbes featured Elizabeth Holmes on the cover of its ‘400’ list – yep, the same Elizabeth Holmes indicted for fraud four years later. And just this year, Forbes named Silicon Valley Bank one of America’s best banks a mere month before it went bankrupt. How the magazine has managed to survive this long is anyone’s guess.
3 Something to do with the Quickening and alien planets? In all honesty, I stopped paying attention half way through the second film. You know you have a problem when even your fan wikis have given up trying to make sense of your mythology, and are full of statements like ‘The physiology of the Immortals is somewhat odd’ and ‘The Immortals seem to have some knowledge of Earth culture, and for unknown reasons are forbidden from fighting on holy ground’. Make that kind of statement on a Trekkie forum and you’ll be banned for life.
4 This is the first of a series of sketches. If you’ve got 10 minutes to kill, I recommend them, as Google gets increasingly bitter with each episode. But for the love of god, do not look at the right side of the screen. Remember: your job is to get in and then get back out of YouTube within 10 minutes. Good luck and see you on the other side!
6 Actually, I just Googled it – turns out it’s ‘start in the middle of a sentence and move both directions at once’, which makes about as much sense as jazz itself. But the point is that I asked, and you told me the answer in less than a second. Well, after I checked out the link where Grammar Girl discusses whether to start a sentence with ‘however’, and that Kurt Vonnegut quote she mentions about sea pirates, but that only took 15 minutes, tops!