Thursday, June 12, 2014

You autocomplete me

Why can’t I own a Canadian? A fair question if you’re a Google search prompt. Starting a search “why does…” will ensure you are interrupted with sensible and self-affirming autocompletes including ‘why does my cat lick me?’ and ‘why does everyone hate me?’ The question marks are mine; Google seems to prefer the more rhetorical approach.

Official documentation explains: “as you type a search query into the new toolbar’s search box, you’ll see a list of useful suggestions based on popular Google searches, spelling corrections and your own toolbar search history and bookmarks.” Hey man, don’t blame me and my search history for this shit; I have not been hanging out in the small hours exploring raspy-tongue-loving Canadians. Also, your definition of ‘useful’ differs wildly from mine.
As a record of the zeitgeist, search prompts are an interesting, if a little disturbing, cultural snapshot. While some are reassuring; ‘is it illegal… to seek asylum in Australia,’ answer: no (but well done for finding out for yourself rather than believing all the tripe on Facebook). Others reveal factoids you just wouldn’t have known you needed; “is it illegal… to be fat in Japan,’ answer: yes the government imposed a maximum waistline size for anyone aged over forty: 85 centimeters for men and 90 centimeters for women.

And then there are the WTF moments ‘why do… velociraptors throw bananas’ which is not only an anachronism (velociraptors pre-dating bananas by about 70 million years) and a physical impossibility (non-rotating wrists) but also particularly disturbing for those who wanted to know why do birds suddenly appear, just because, you are near?
We might want to cut the search engine a bit of slack however; serious research (by which I mean Googling then hitting the ‘I feel lucky’ button) has revealed that it answers more than one billion questions each day - a heavy workload even for an American multinational corporation specialising in internet-related services and products.

Then of course there’s the fact that many, many internet users are smoking crack while they type. Close to two thousand people a month search for information on how to get away with murder (and with one thousand per month searching on how to hide a dead body, we’ve got to assume Google had a helpful reply). Cat dating and ‘how to make my cat love me’ are searched hundreds of times each month while eighteen thousand people each month want to know why men have nipples. What does this say about us? Are we really anatomically- interested murderous cat lovers?
It can be disquieting to realise just how much of our lives Google has squirreled away for future reference; some of the prompts are frighteningly accurate such as ‘what time… does Centrelink open’ (don’t judge). But it’s fun too, addictive even. Searches such as ‘I like to…’, ‘is it wrong to…’ and ‘why can’t I…’ throw up some stupendous suggestions and many a happy hour is to be whiled away on the resulting paths through internetland.

Just don’t try typing ‘what would happen if…’ Or anything to do with fracking.


  1. You KNOW I have to go and google fracking now, don't you? Evil, evil I tell you!