Exploring A Googlized Reality
If you buy into the concept, we’re officially another step closer to the complete Googlization of reality: In May, Google searches accounted for 68.29 percent of all US searches, and 87 percent of search in the UK, according to Hitwise. In France, Google runs 90 percent of the search show.
Yahoo holds steady at just under 20 percent, while Microsoft rounds up just below six percent, and Ask.com scores just over four. What’s left for the remaining 41 search engines Hitwise measured? About 1.63 percent of the market. But remember this point and carry it with you until the end of this column: Technically, there are 45 search engines, not including the ones that didn’t make it into Hitwise’s measurements, not just one, not just four.
Obvious for some time, that makes Google the essential search engine for advertisers trying to reach the majority of the Internet audience. But what is Google’s overall impact on the global society? Is Google a real burgeoning monopoly? Is Google changing the collective reality? Is Google our only choice? Well, that depends on how you look at it.
The "Googlization" of reality comes into question because if almost everybody uses the same search engine to gather their information, and if almost everybody among that group doesn’t go beyond the first ten results or consult another source, then it can be (eruditely) argued that Google shapes the collective truth. These ten sources represent that truth.
This hit home recently while workshopping with other writers. One of them, referring to the relationship of research to writing, noted how times had changed because "Google makes it so easy." Having led a discussion group the day before on Jorge Borges’ famous short story "The Library of Babel," I had already twisted my brain into submission for any esoteric exploration of indexing and cataloging.
Weird, I know. But hang with me. Borges was a Argentinean librarian (to oversimplify him), and this particular story, drawing from (more like inspiring) post-modern thought about finding a way to neatly organize reality, focused on the sheer futility—better, the impossibility—of building a repository for all the information in the universe. Borges’ fictional library was composed of potentially infinite (though not likely if the end result is a sphere) hexagonal galleries, which housed every book ever written or potentially written, in every conceivable (and inconceivable) language, as well as thousands of facsimiles of those books differing only by a letter or a comma.
Borges summarizes better than I. The library contained:
"Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books."
Over the past half-century, we’ve whittled this down to two words: information overload. Borges’ point (one of them): Truth, or Reality, is too vast a thing to be wholly captured in text. If alive today, he might agree that reality can’t be captured in ten (or a million) search results, either.
And while I feel (and Know, to a certain extent) that is true, the Googlization of reality theory adds itself to other doomsdayish predictions like, as the French dubbed it a few years back, "omnigooglization," which is more akin to the dreaded (to them) Anglicanization of Europe, and to a Dutch wonder-what-they-were-smoking theory about how Google was altering time (and history) itself via continuously updated timestamps on revised content.
I’d like to call these ideas "Borgesian," but they aren’t quite elegant enough. All of them have the same flaw: the presumption that Google is all there is out there on the vast universe that is the Internet. The ways of finding information about reality are infinite and once again the onus is on humans, not bots, to discover the various aspects and cracks in reality by taking various paths.
No doubt it won’t be long until governments lay the antitrust pressure on Google, especially if Yahoo signs on in a bid to escape Microsoft. But the assumptions that Google is blocking or stifling competition, or that the company’s business practices to grab 90 percent of the market are unfair, suffer from the same flaw as the aforementioned theories: There is no chokepoint for information retrieval (at least on a neutral net), and Google will never accomplish the goal of indexing reality in its entirety.
Unlike in the telecommunications industry, it’s impossible for a single search engine to deny access to the expanse of the Internet—there will always be other options. Unlike with the oil industry, where a certain reality is created and forced upon consumers, Google will only be able to offer its very own version of reality, which will no doubt prove popular, but will not be fixed.