We search only once. We bring very little to the table. We’re not so proficient at input, and we don’t remember specifics. We aim for proximity and trust the technology to reconcile our query with the infinite repository of information and ideas we now call Google.
Even with Judge Chin’s decision pending, this habit is terribly dangerous.
Why? The human mind is a field of information.
When we encounter a piece of information, our mind remembers and correlates it with our experience. This is what scientists call “intelligence.” Intelligence is, basically, information.
Google is fast becoming the single lens through which we perceive intelligence, displaying extraordinary qualities that the human intellect doesn’t come close to. One of these is infinite correlation, or the ability to do an infinite number of things at the same time and correlate these with each other.
When we pursue an idea online, correlation takes place below the level of our conscious awareness. A search in Google Books for “A Tale of Two Cities,” for example, renders associative trails of ubiquitous bread crumbs that extend far beyond literary experience.
Each unit of text – from Darnay to guillotine – is scanned, deconstructed, and remixed into Google’s universal computational cloud. Dickens’s story is parsed and recalibrated to abysmal enterprise: think commercial (buy a knitted scarf), ethereal (storm the Bastille), colloquial (chat with Jacobins), financial (invest at Tellson’s), etc.
Infinite correlation is just one specific cognitive role of Google’s technology. It dislodges time and place as key aspects of organizing and finding information. These dislocations are a real bummer for those of us concerned with posterity and public trust, because Google is not a benign tool – it both shapes and uses us to create information.
With its advertising, data mining, and codified persuasions, the Google Books Settlement marks an end of self-directed inquiry and the beginning of self-referred intelligence, where our thoughts (and fictions) become just artifacts of Googlified experience.
“The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom,” said German poet Bertolt Brecht, “but to set a limit to infinite error.”