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Nish Gera Headshot

How Google Explains the World

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GOOGLE AUTOCOMPLETE NISH GERA
Nish Gera

I sure hope someone somewhere is archiving all Google autocomplete data. If I were a social anthropologist living in the year 2150, not that far off in the larger scheme of things, I would be very interested in what hundreds of millions of people were searching the Internet for in the early part of the 21st century, a time when paper books were still easy to find and only a select few were using 3-D printers to print their condoms and toothbrushes at home. I would sigh with nostalgia for these good old days in the same way we sigh about The Roaring Twenties or La Belle Époque. Technically, you had to have been there for nostalgia but who wants to get technical.

When Google first became popular, I, along with countless others, started playing doctor on Google. It did not take me long to realize that with a few "intelligently" framed keywords, even the most benign of symptoms easily led to a fatal diagnosis. Days were spent worrying about the almost certain throat cancer Dr. Google suggested I had after three days of an earache. The only thing left to do then was to Google how many days I had to live, but I wanted to leave some things to my doctor and insurance company, after all. This was pre-2008 -- the medieval dark ages of the great wide Interweb.

In 2008, Google launched Autocomplete and I thought to myself -- "This changes everything." (In usual 20/20 hindsight, I now feel I should have copyrighted this three-word phrase because it has since been used, with abandon, by almost every new iPhone launch and every popular smartphone game involving birds, aliens or both.) I digress, though.

When in 2008, Google launched Autocomplete, then coyly named "Google Suggest," I hastily planned to take a few days off from work just to soak myself in the pool of endless possibilities that this had just opened up. This was voyeurism at its best.

The 2013 film, Her, nominated for five Academy awards tells the story of a man who develops a relationship with an intelligent operating system. Every moment, tens of thousands of people around the world are playing out parts of that story, to varying degrees.

The whys, whats and hows of human existence, from the mundane to the existential, are now being asked in the Google search bar, countless times a day. The seven Google Autocomplete questions below show a sliver of these sometimes funny, sometimes sad and often telling snapshots of the human condition.

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