No Google Instant gratification
I'm frightened by Google Instant. It makes me nervous and jittery, the way I feel when I am at the wheel and the person in the back seat starts asking: "Don't you want to turn left?" "Isn't this where we're going?" "Don't you want to stop at this light?" "No!" I shout. I did want to turn left, and this was where we were going, and I should have stopped, but now I'm too harried, so I have to keep driving until we reach the sea.
It's the same with Google Instant. I hate that it presumes that it knows what I want. I hate that it's right. It's like those little plastic games of 20 Questions you can try in-store. "This costs under five dollars!" you tell yourself. "It can't know what I want!" But it does. "Catherine the Great," you think. "Katherine the Great?" it suggests, after about three questions. "Mine was with a C!" you retort. How can it know? Are we really that predictable? I refuse to accept that all the glorious complexity of my every thought has already been predicted by some algorithm in Mountain View, so I keep trying to pretend that what I really wanted to look up was something long and erudite, even after there's hardly any point. I try to look up chocolate. It knows after four characters. "That wasn't what I meant," I tell it. "I meant, 'chocolate is probably unhealthful.'"
No way the Hive Mind is pulling one over me. I'm one of those digital natives. I understand that everyone, everywhere, all the time is Googling something. Not just information. We go to Google when we have relationship problems. ("I think I am in" brings up "love, labor, -sane," or "love with my best friend.") We go to Google when we don't. It's the shoulder on which we, digitally, cry. Must it show us up constantly by knowing what we want before even we do?
It's bad when it's right. What's even worse is when it's wrong. Back before there was Google Instant (if we with our online attention spans can remember such a time), when I tried to relax after a long day of work with some "ugly pictures of cats," I could. Old Google didn't judge me. Old Google didn't assume I was looking for something erudite. Today I tried to look up "ugly pictures of cats," and Google Instant assumed I wanted to learn about the USPS and then read an article about Uganda. I felt guilty, so I read them both. The postal service is in terrible shape, financially! So is Uganda! But this wasn't what I wanted. I wanted ugly cats.
Google Instant is the worst of all possible worlds. It either knows exactly what I do want, or it knows exactly what I should want. And when I type in "por-" it takes me to a Porsche dealership and an article about Portugal. Which is, of course, exactly what I wanted.
I'm turning it off.
| September 8, 2010; 6:28 PM ET
Categories: Petri | Tags: Alexandra Petri
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