Our Google searches reveal more about us than we might expect. For example, in 2013, Americans were interested–very interested–in twerking.
If they were young, they googled the things they didn’t know. Some were things they were supposed to know, like the habits of the hammerhead shark. The perfect squares under 100. The phrase “rite of passage.” When they got bored, they googled images of peace signs, photographs of rainbows, a video of a girl singing about Friday and another of a baby laughing and laughing. They googled Anne Hathaway. If they were boys, they googled how to build a bomb. If they could get on the computer when their parents weren’t home they googled things they weren’t supposed to know, things like sodomy and lesbian and boob. Then they cleared the search history and googled hammerhead shark.
If they were old, they googled the things they had forgotten. Names of actors and movies, old sports scores and hurricanes, the vice president under Carter, the ingredients in a Manhattan. The hours of the liquor store, liquor stores open Sunday, directions. They googled things that had escaped them: the definition of “feckless,” a synonym for “regime,” most of the answers to the Sunday crossword puzzle. They googled remedies for burns and bee stings.
If they were lonely, they googled sex. They googled phone sex, cybersex, and sex xxx. They googled long-lost lab partners, old boyfriends, the name of their ex-husband’s new girlfriend. They googled cute pictures of baby animals. They googled the word lonely. They googled “distended stomach” “nosebleed that won’t stop” “numbness” “insomnia” and “cancer symptoms.”
The things they googled were determined by forgetfulness, by need, by desire, by curiosity, and by the endless availability of googling. In fact, there was no point in remembering anything except how to google. They didn’t even have to remember what they were googling: When they googled “When does G,” just that much, Google knew the question was when Glee Season Three would begin. When they googled pleonism, Google quietly looked up pleonasm. Google never made them feel bad about not knowing.
So they googled how to lose weight and pictures of psoriasis and checklists for diagnosing ADD. If they were pregnant, there was no end to their googling. They googled when it would rain and how much it would rain and when to plant their gardens. They googled the tides and the seasons. They googled sunrise and sunset. They googled births and deaths. They googled themselves, which was sometimes unsettling, turning up Boston Marathon times and class reunions and even obituaries not their own.
How did they live before Google, they wondered. How did anyone know anything? How did anyone remember, while driving through Mohntown, Pennsylvania, the name of the young blond actress in the movie Witness who was from that town?
When they were hungry, they googled. They googled “recipe chard cannellini beans” “recipe apple gingersnap” “recipe rice noodle salad.” How to freeze tomatoes. How to peel and seed tomatoes. Can you add grated zucchini to cornbread mix? What is that smell in my refrigerator? How can you tell if an egg is rotten? If one egg is rotten, are all the others rotten too? Best no-egg cornbread. Best no-egg omelette.
Best restaurant brunch.
Plagued by the disturbing familiarity of an essay they had read, they googled The Things They Googled, and again Google was there before they finished typing. It was the short story “The Things They Carried” they were thinking of, the beautiful, heartbreaking Vietnam story by Tim O’Brien. Google showed them where to read it online, and some of them actually did read it, which stopped them for a while from their googling.
Now put down that iPhone and I will tell you:
The actress is Kelly McGillis.
Pleonasm is the use of more words than necessary to express an idea.
You cannot find the best restaurant for brunch on Google, though Google confidently pretends otherwise. But this search works better the old-fashioned way: on foot, by hand, with your mouth. First, you will have to leave the house.
Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.