Searching Google, And Finding Ourselves

Nicolas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brain, speaks to how the digital age is transforming what it means to ‘search.’

When we talk about “searching” these days, we're almost always talking about using Google to find something online.

That’s a big change for a word that long carried existential connotations — a word that had been bound up in our sense of what it meant to be human. We didn’t just search for car keys or missing socks. We searched for truth, for meaning, for transcendence. Searching was an act of exploration that took us out into the world, beyond ourselves, in order to know the world, and ourselves, more fully.

In its original form, the Google search engine did just that. It transported us out into a messy and confusing world — the world of the web — with the intent of helping us make sense of it.

But that’s less true now. Google’s big goal is no longer to read the web. It's to read us.

… These days, Google's search engine doesn’t push us outward so much as turn us inward. It gives us information that fits the pattern of behavior and thinking we’ve displayed in the past. It reinforces our biases rather than challenging them, and subverts the act of searching in its most meaningful sense.

As Eli Pariser writes in The Filter Bubble: “When technology’s job is to show you the world, it ends up sitting between you and reality, like a camera lens.”

(h/t Annie)

Still curious? Check out The Filter Bubble — What the Internet is Hiding From You and DuckDuckGo.