Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Google is My Brain

Posted By on Wed, Dec 9, 2009 at 3:46 PM

So, things were a little slow around here at lunchtime. I was kicked back at my desk with my laptop on, well, my lap, daydreaming. But daydreaming now is different than it was 10 years ago. It's more results oriented. That's because my brain is so much bigger. Google-big. Here's an example:

I got an email from a former colleague, a fellow I worked with in Pittsburgh. He was just checking in, not much news, happy holidays and such. But that email exchange got me thinking about another colleague from back in the day, a guy I hadn't heard from or thought about in 15 years. Pre-Google, my thoughts would have gone like this: Hmmm. Wonder what ever happened to ol' Vince? Did he divorce that hellcat he was married to? Did he stop drinking? Is he still taking pictures? Huh. Oh well.

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And that would have pretty much been it. I would have soon moved on to other thoughts — or even done something productive. Not in 2009. Now, I Google him, Google-image him. I see if he's on Facebook. Or Linked In. And in fact, he is. There's ol' Vince's entire back-story, with pictures. If I'm feeling like I want to touch base, I can email him, friend him, or even call him, since I now know where he works. I can even drive by his house using Google-map Street View. It's daydreaming with an action plan.

Here's another example: The "Billy Jack" movies of the '70s are sort of a standing joke between me and another old friend. (In case you're wondering, the Billy Jack movies are crummy action flicks directed by, and starring, a guy named Tom Laughlin, who plays a noble, lone-wolf, karate-chopping bad-ass aka Billy Jack.) At any rate, my friend called, and before he hung up, he made a passing reference to Born Losers, perhaps one of the stupidest flicks ever made. In it, Billy Jack single-handedly fights off a biker gang and rescues a chick who spends most of the movie riding around on a motorcycle in a white bikini, trying to escape the bad guys. My friend made some crack about wondering what bikini chick's name was and where she was today. "Probably, a grandmother," he laughed. Maybe so, I thought.

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Once upon a time, I would have hung up the phone, and maybe pondered who the white-bikini-chick was for a minute, then moved on to other things. Not with Google-daydreaming! It's results-oriented and action-packed! A quick visit to IMDB.com gives me the actress' name — Elizabeth James — and her meager film resume: Born Losers and Crazy Mary Dirty Larry. A google image search turns up a picture of Elizabeth in her white bikini next to her motorcycle. Aaaaand, in the process, I've managed to waste 20 minutes.

We are — those of us sitting behind a computer all day, at least — blessed (and cursed) with the luxury of being able to tap into the entirety of mankind's knowledge in seconds — from trivial minutiae to the deepest philosophical questions. If we have a question about something, we can learn the answer immediately. Never before in human history has so much knowledge been so available to so many so quickly. Learning has never been easier. But by making learning easier are we appreciating it less? I don't know. Thinking, unfortunately, is just as difficult as it's always been.

Which makes me wonder if there have been any studies on the impact of Google on human thought processes ... Hmmm, I should probably Google that.

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