September 19, 2012

Google for the curious


Forty day and forty nights since the last post on this blog. It has a faintly biblical ring to it. That fact isn’t for lack of ideas, there has been a surfeit of ideas, a torrent even, but run on time. When you finally sit down to write, invariably it is the last thing that you thought of that is the first one out.

I was reading a piece in this weekend’s FT magazine that reminded me of something I had written earlier this year, which in turn echoed a piece I had writted some time the year before. Entitled ‘Free for all, read by none’, in it, Gillian Tett, asserted that the internet, rather than connecting us with the rest of the world, draws us into an ever decreasing spiral, our circle tightening and tightening, like an overwound clock spring that refuses to break. But in many way a break is exactly what is needed. My own version of this ‘Is the Guardian making you stupid?’ was aimed at the self-affirming reading habits at many of those in positions of cultural dominance as well as in fact many who operate in the corridors of hard power ( the current discussion that just reared its head this morning to bring back the death penalty demonstrates how everything is up for grabs, and may come as a surprise for many who have been blithely living in that liberal monoculture). A previous post, some time back ‘Places other than London’ reflected on the geographical version of this navel gazing, particularly applicable during that particular spell in advertising when that was written. Tett’s article takes this to the next logic stage. That as the web becomes bigger, the world that we interact with on it becomes smaller- add to that selecting traditional media brands that hold a mirror to ourselves and parrot back that opinions that we hold to be truths ( Analysis on Radio4 last night was very interesting on this) and the internet is shrinking our mental worlds, just as the cross-connected Alpha cities may be shrinking our geographical ones. The web gives us the potential to connect to ideas as diverse and as challenging to Aboriginal rights in Australia to Lesbian womens emancipation in Zimbabwe. Yet we persist with the same three Comment is Free columnists and an amusing picture of a seal.

So what is the answer to all this. There was a gem of an idea emerging, something which, as a second tier future citizen (‘those who cannot code’) I cannot execute. Google for the curious- a search engine for serendipity, a ‘random article’ button for the whole of the web, to select from the widest possible range of the interesting, obscure, engaging and challenging that is out there. If Google narrows, then this should broaden, provide a sense of chance, happenstance and delight to the web. To bring alive the great undiscovered world that is only one, bling lazy and as-yet un-done click away. There have been those that have tried- those who claim to be ‘discovery engines’,  but here for discovery, read ‘similarity’. What we need is a way of plugging into the possibility of the web, rather than limiting the bounds of our own curiosity.