Nicholas Carr, who is ratcheting up the rhetoric about how the Internet is making us stupid to support his new book, has just had an essay in that vein related to Google published by The Atlantic.
Carr is disturbed by how Google Suggest, the feature in Google’s search box that provides suggestions as we type letters while doing a search, tries to predict what users are searching for.
Instead of typing out full queries, users may often type out letters or words of full quotes and click on the suggested searches to more quickly go to their destination. This capability, also available in Bing and Yahoo, makes us lazy, or too reliant on Google, he believes.
“Software programmers are taking the displacement of personal agency to a new level. Relentlessly focused on making their programs more “user friendly,” they’re scripting the intimate processes of intellectual inquiry and even social attachment. We follow their scripts when we click on one of Google’s keyword suggestions, and we follow them when we select from a list of categories to describe ourselves and our relationships on Facebook. These choices are convenient, but they’re not our own. They’re generalizations masquerading as personalizations.“
“Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, once remarked that he looked forward to the day when Google would be able to tell him “what [he] should be typing,” which, if I’m interpreting the statement correctly, also means that Google would be telling him what he should be thinking. Such a service, Schmidt said, would be the product he’s “always wanted to build.” I can’t say I’m looking forward to it.“
Where Carr sees Google Suggest as being an annoying, “meddlesome mother,” others see it as a spotlight for the massive vortex of info online.
Say I’ve seen a movie and liked a particular quote that I can’t quite remember verbatim. I can begin typing it into the Google search box and the quote, provided it proved popular with others, will show up, eventually in its complete, original form.
Is that telling me what to think, or helping me complete my thought? However you look at it, I’m happy because I got my quote completed and can click through the Suggest option to get to a Website with more info about the movie, sometimes IMDB.com, sometimes something not as official or useful.
What Carr sees as Googlethink I see as a tremendous time saver. But what the hell do I know? I see Google and other software programs as a tool, a digital Swiss army knife to get work done. That’s just the short list.
It’s not gospel, and I don’t take it too seriously. That’s the problem with Carr and some of the other folks who hang their shingles on infusing technology with polemics.
Carr also wrote:
“It felt a little creepy, too. Every time Google presents me with search terms customized to what I’m typing, it reminds me that the company monitors my every move.“
If you think that’s creepy, just wait, unless of course the DOJ and other regulatory powers give Google the big privacy smackdown I’ve been predicting for years.
Catch my drift. Suggest now tailors results to our nearest city, but there’s no reason to think it can’t become more localized to each person over time.
Google launched personalized suggestions for those who allow it.
I’d actually like to see these personalized search suggestions pop up in my Google search box as part of Google Suggest.
Now that would be super useful … and extra creepy for those who are hesitant to trust Google to keep their data private let alone let them think their own thoughts.
Given Google’s propensity to integrate complementary features, I’d expect Suggest and Personalized Suggestions to meet in the Google search box at some point.