I’m a bit of a factoid geek, and nary a day goes by when I don’t look something up. Is Suriname in Africa? Why is my face so flaky? What are the actual lyrics to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”?
I know I’m not alone in reaching for the phone when a question comes to mind. After all, we live in an era where we all have access to all information all of the time. So why not access it, thereby proving that we are smarter, more informed, and have a broader range of knowledge than ever before.
Case in point:
When my daughter was 5-months-old, her right arm started flapping up and down, banging against herself, or me, or anything in its way. As with all things new I was instantly intrigued. What did this new ability signify? What connection in her brain had been made? What milestone had she reached?
So I reached for the phone and Googled it.
As I typed, Google’s suggestions flicked across the screen like an airport flight information board.
- Ba – Back to the Future
- Bab – Babybjorn potty chair
- Baby f – Baby food
- Baby fl – Baby flat head
- Baby fla – Baby flapping arms
That’s it, “Baby flapping arms”. Seeing this suggestion pop up I immediately thought, great, it’s very common. Happens to everyone. So I clicked “enter” and my heart sank.
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And that was just the first result. Further down the page I had the CDC Signs & Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder Warning Signs Checklist, and a YouTube video called “Flapping Possible Autism”.
I spent a couple of dark days desperately coming to terms with my daughter’s inevitable condition, even apologizing to my wife (who remained unaware of my Google search) for all the ways in which I couldn’t protect our daughter from life’s hardship. It was rough, and I scoured the web for solutions to my problem, combing through parenting blogs and baby forums for answers to questions I didn’t know I had.
The answer I was looking for, though, came when I changed my Google search terms.
“Baby Banging Arms”
That one, apparently, is perfectly normal, and a good sign that your child is developing on track. What a relief.
Now 7 months old, my daughter has started doing this unbelievably cute thing with her right hand. She holds it out, and turns it so that her palm faces her as if she is admiring some piece of art, or contemplating the divine.
So I reached for the phone and Googled it:
I know. I shouldn’t have. Big mistake. What was I thinking? Had I learned nothing? But I Googled it. I did. So sue me.
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I can’t help but marvel at how Google mirrors my inner paranoia and anxiety. Google spits back results that perfectly reflect my emotional landscape, and I am awe-struck before this powerful, all-knowing, god-like being.
Early humans looked up at the stars and pondered the meaning of the life. They drew up maps of the heavens, interpreting the movement of the stars and planets as a means of making sense of the chaos of life. In contemplating the ether they found a truth that justified their existence.
We know as little about Google’s search algorithms as the star-gazers of yesteryear did about the celestial bodies. Yet we too look to an unknown to seek answers and justification for our behavior. We ask the Google-God to show us the way, and the Google-God obliges.
But perhaps we should be more careful in our requests. Perhaps we should consider more carefully the words we input into the white void of the Google search bar.
Words define how we experience life. Consider the difference between the word “loneliness” and “solitude”. One conjures up a blue void, a sense of disconnect, and a heavy heart. The other, however, imbues us with an emboldening force.
Without knowledge of both words (and no doubt many others) how can we fully appreciate all the many facets of being alone? Language provides a richness of experience that Google cannot. And yet we have entrusted Google to interpret our words as it sees fit.
My absent-minded use of the word “flapping” over “banging” took me down an emotional rabbit-hole. I set out to find a certain truth (that my daughter was developing normally) and was forsaken by the Google-God. I trusted the Google-God to guide me but found that I had to lead the Google-God where I wanted to go. I had to adjust my own search terms to find the answer I was looking for, the validation I needed.
So next time you are looking for answers, pause before you type, and consider the words you are about to use.
Because truth is just how you phrase your Google search.