Are Search Engines Ruining Our Lives?

This is a guest post by Maurilio Amorim that I found quite interesting food for thought…

Google and search engines are ruining our lives. I’m convinced of it. Sure, we can now find everything we want to know about any given subject by typing a word and hitting search. Now wait. We don’t even have to finish typing the word. Magical internet search engine elves anticipate our search criteria and fill in the rest of word or phrase for us, most of the time with eerily accuracy.

What’s so wrong about that? Well, the instant retrieval of exactly the information we search for is convenient for sure, but it is doing away with a part of my past I wish I could still have: serendipitous discovery.

I remember looking through the card catalog and pouring through stacks of books in my college library in search of a book and finding authors and titles that were not even on my radar, but due to the “analog” nature of my search, our paths crossed and the title I was not looking for ended up changing my life. Those opportunities are rare in the efficient world of the search engine.

The digital assumption is that we know exactly what we want and all we need is help finding it. But do we really?

How will we ever discover a better alternative to our limited assumption if we take away the wonder of the unexpected? How will we ever meet the more interesting, exotic and surprisingly fun girl if the only dates we are matched with are based on our Barbie-like profile preference? Darn search engine meta-tags. You are the nemesis of serendipity.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that knowledge is no longer a differentiator. These days a head full of facts is a waste of brain power. Who needs to memorize trivia when you can access the world’s knowledge in your cell phone in 30 seconds or less? But I miss the random encounters with facts, writing, music, and people that my old analog world forced  me to experience.  It was in those moments that I ran across an obscure Shakespearean sonnet, that I discovered the music of Basha, that I met the woman who would become my wife.

Now I can find exactly what I want. But is that what I really need?

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7 Comments on “Are Search Engines Ruining Our Lives?

  1. I wasn’t sure about this post, since I often come across the most interesting things when I’m following a search path. So I googled “search trees obscure connections”, to see if there was any research on paths a search could lead to. I didn’t find what I was looking for but I did discover something quite interesting… Number 3 on the results http://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/ – I think where search engines are concerned when we know what we’re looking for we find it, but when we’re not quite sure, then there’s room for serendipity :)

  2. Exactly why I don’t like Google’s new privacy policy – everything is directed to my current interests; what about those I don’t know yet? I love serendipity – it’s how I found my most favorite book – scanning a recommended library shelf, taking home a book I would not look for and falling in love with it.

  3. Pingback: Christianity in the online world « Ed's Slipper

  4. Pingback: Tech Paradox? « Streetwalking

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