*To get this joke, you need to read Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (In fact to get 50% of all inside jokes online, you need to read it.)
I had my first contact with the trilogy at the age of 15, and it quickly became my favorite book. It’s got to be one of the funniest, most memorable and intelligent books ever written by a carbon-based life form descended from an ape.
When I first logged onto the Web, somewhere in the mid-nineties sitting at my grandfather’s computer, I was looking for the homepage.
You see, I was used to my German provider who coupled responsibility of accessing information, with the service of providing it. (Much like AOL is still trying to do these days.) So they also offered the digital equivalent of yellow pages – an A-Z directory of what’s available.
I didn’t find the homepage.
There were portals; search engines; topic-related link lists. But one thing seemed to be missing to me, because I didn’t quite grasp the concept of this online world: the Web didn’t have a single main entrance. Nobody dared to put up the official “Start Here” flag.
These days, things are somewhat different. To many people, Google has changed from being a part of the Web, to being its entrance. When a page doesn’t load, I check if I can connect to Google. If Google’s there, the ’Net’s there. If it’s not, I simply don’t have a connection. Because like gravity, Google’s always working. If I have any question, if I’m looking for a page, news, content, I take the Google route, as naturally as something you drop won’t fall upwards, but downwards and onto earth.
For my blog research, I tested some search engines in detail, one of them being AllTheWeb. Now I remember finding something interesting in the AllTheWeb result page... immediately I fired up Google and queried for those keywords. That’s when I realized I just came from a search engine.
Google passed the search engine Turing test; AllTheWeb’s the stranger, and Google’s the friend. It’s like when somebody tells you the latest rumor about someone – you won’t believe what you hear unless your good friend will tell you wether it’s true or not. Our mental note is categorized under “possibly” instead of “definitely”.
So the relationship of most of us show towards Google is one of complete trust. Subconsciously we have deep faith that what Google decides to deliver is simply a representation of what is there... it’s like basic Web physics. And at times, we forget that it’s all artificial. That Google makes algorithmic decisions; but that algorithms are still written by humans.
What if Google would stop being there, from one second to the next? First, I wouldn’t know if I’m still connected to the Web. Second, I wouldn’t know just where to start. And third, I wouldn’t know how to answer many questions that pop-up whenever I’m sitting in front of the computer.
In other words: the main entrance to the ’Net would suddenly be locked. Just like a sudden power black out, you’d be reminded that there’s a reason the light-bulb on your desk is glowing, helping you find what’s on it when the sun has set. That in fact it’s not mere physics that light your room, but a human construct – one which can be as fragile as a relationship between two humans, as fragile as anything humans develop.
So just like it’s with healthy relationships, keep something for yourself. Keep some independence, dignity, and knowledge in your head; don’t litter your memory with too many details, but don’t out-source your brain.
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