Don’t know? Ask Google.

Marcos Chiquetto fev 17 2023

By Marcos Chiquetto

Yesterday, a song from my childhood came into my head. And I couldn’t remember who the artist was. I immediately grabbed my cellphone and typed a line of the lyrics into Google. The singer`s name popped right up.

But, what would have happened if I hadn’t been able to find that name? I’d probably have been bothered, thinking about it and trying to do other searches on the Internet until I found it. Not being able to get certain factual information, like the name of a person or a place, is a disturbing, irritating sensation that we quickly want to resolve by searching the Internet.

But has it always been this way? Was not having some particular information always this irritating?

To answer this question, we have to go back in time a bit, to a time when the Internet wasn’t available to the average person. Let’s imagine a fictional character named José, on any given day during the decade of the 80s, who remembers a song from his childhood but can’t remember who the singer was.

José asks his wife:

− Remember this song we used to sing when we were kids?

− Sure. I sang it all the time.

− Who was the singer that recorded it?

− I don’t remember.

What happens next? Would José be upset? Would he look for this information somewhere?

No. He’d probably forget about it and that would be the end of the matter. There would be no use of getting upset and trying to look somewhere for this information. The information would simply not be available. There would be no way for him to get it at that point in time.

Actually, maybe it would be possible to get the information. He could talk to other people and ask each one if they remembered. Or go get an encyclopedia, which documented the most important information in every area of knowledge in a set of dozens of thick bound books.

One of the most famous editions of Encyclopaedia Britannica, with 33 books

If he couldn’t find it in an encyclopedia, José could go to the offices of a newspaper and spend hours flipping through old, dusty issues looking for some mention of the song. Or go to record companies to look through their catalogs of old recordings, if they still existed. Or go to a public library, full of old printed publications of different types.

In the old libraries, the indexation by subject was much ineffective. For that reason, you had to actually examine the selected books one by one to search for a piece of information.

In any one of these cases, it would be a difficult, time-consuming search, which could only be justified if the subject was of great importance. For a common, every day doubt, the effort just wouldn’t be worth it.

So, how could you deal with this sort of problem?

Easily: just don’t thinking of it as a problem. You can’t remember something? OK. Life goes on. If it’s not a problem, then no solution is needed.

Humans lived this way for tens of thousands of years. It’s only now, over the last 30 years, with the popularization of platforms for the exchange of information that store practically all written knowledge, which is easily found through excellent search tools, that the lack of some information has become so uncomfortable. Before that, the rule was that most information wasn’t available and this was seen as normal.

Have you ever thought about that?

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