A Royall Juggle

Weekly #5: The Google Fountain of Youth

Posted on: October 20, 2010

I don’t always read Epilogues, but the title of the one in The Search by John Battelle,  intrigued me — “Search and Immortality.” It talks about Battelle “googling” the term “immortality” and coming across the oldest named author in history. Battelle goes on to ask these questions:

“Is that not what every person longs for – to die, but to be known forever?”

“And does not search offer the same immortal imprint: is not existing forever in the indexes of Google and others the modern-day equivalent of carving our stories into stone?”

Before the internet, people were satisfied leaving their mark in life with their loved ones; friends, family and possibly other affiliations such as church and community. We keep personal photo albums in our houses to look through from time to time and remember the “good ole days,” passing those albums and other pieces of our past down to our children to carry on our legacy. The nice thing about physical archives of our past is that we can choose what we want to leave behind and hide or destroy the parts of our lives that aren’t so appealing. My preacher keeps a personal journal and told me that he’ll never write something in it that could potentially damage another person’s reputation. Although that may not be true about my journal entries (I use them to vent sometimes after all), his advice makes me think twice before I start writing now.

Another example of things we might want to destroy — drunken college photos; something that didn’t become a major problem until my generation (Facebook got big when I was a junior in college). Think about it: the worst thing that could happen to our parent’s generation is that their kids could come across an old photo album of them at spring break like what Clay Walker sings about in “Fore She Was Mama” (I think there is a country song for every scenario in life and I’ve decided to use this blog as a way to prove my point).

The bad thing about those physical archives is that they are extremely difficult to share. I remember spending tons of money printing countless amounts of double prints for friends in middle and high school because I was always the one with the camera in the group. In comes Google and other major internet players that saved the day; they work to help us share and find things easier online. But do we really want Google to remember everything about our lives and keep it in the digital archives forever? In our Social Media class last week, we discussed an example of this with the Virginia congressional candidate, Krystal Ball. Her campaign has been distracted because of an old sexy santa picture of her and her husband in college. We also talked about how common these types of photos are becoming and in a decade or so they’ll be so typical that the media won’t even look twice.

OK, so it’s no surprise that kids today will grow up with most of their life documented online. Now consider some of the some of the emerging trends of search Battelle discusses in Chapter 11, “The Perfect Search”:

  • Ubiquity: the integration of more and more information into web indexes
  • Personalized search: the application of your personal web toward a more perfect answer
  • The rise of the semantic web: the tagging of information so as to make it more easily found
  • Domain-specific search: search solutions focused on a particular area of knowledge
  • Web time axis: being able to search constrained by date (e.g. what were the popular results for “Insert your name here” on “October 19, 2010”)

As search becomes more robust and personalized, it will be much easier for the digital files of your youth to live on forever and to be found pretty quickly. So do we fear Google and its competitors and the power of the information in their hands? OR Do we embrace it to leave our mark in life and hopefully make a positive impact on a larger audience we weren’t able to reach before our lives became digitized? Obviously because I am writing this blog and I’m active on social sites like Facebook, I’ve chosen to embrace it.

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2 Responses to "Weekly #5: The Google Fountain of Youth"

Amanda, this was great! I love reading your posts; they always make me think. Your emphasis on the epilogue made me take a second look — and I’m glad I did!

Thanks Kate! I’ve really enjoyed studying the psychology behind the social tools and technology this semester. On another note… here is the haunted forest in MD I recommend — http://markoffshauntedforest.com/ 🙂

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