Google and Search Engines are Ruining our Lives


Google and search engines are ruining our lives. I’m convinced of it. Sure, we can now find everything we want to know about any given subject by typing a word and hitting search. Now wait. We don’t even have to finish typing the word. Magical internet search engine elves anticipate our search criteria and fill in the rest of word or phrase for us, most of the time with eerily accuracy.  What’s so wrong about that? Well, the instant retrieval of exactly the information we search for is convenient for sure, but it is doing away with a part of my past I wish I could still have: serendipitous discovery.

search engine is ruining us

I remember looking through the card catalog and pouring through stacks of books in my college library in search of a book and finding authors and titles that were not even on my radar, but due to the “analog” nature of my search, our paths crossed and the tome I was not looking for ended up changing my life. Those opportunities are rare in the efficient world of the search engine.

The digital assumption is that we know exactly what we want and all we need is help finding it. But do we really? How will we ever discover a better alternative to our limited assumption if we take away the wonder of the unexpected? How will we ever meet the more interesting, exotic and surprisingly fun girl if the only dates we are matched with are based on our Barbie-like profile preference? Darn search engine meta-tags. You are the nemesis of serendipity.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that knowledge is no longer a differentiator. These days a head full of facts is a waste of brain power. Who needs to memorize trivia when you can access the world’s knowledge in your cell phone in 30 seconds or less? But I miss the random encounters with facts, writing, music, and people that my old analog world forced  me to experience.  It was in those moments that I ran across an obscure Shakespearean sonnet, that I discovered the music of Basha, that I met the woman who would become my wife.

Now I can find exactly what I want. But is that what I really need?

Have I lost it? Am I completely off base here?

  • Google is a killer. They change their matrix so often it is hard for the small business owner or ministry to keep up.

    • The google algorithm changes are headline news these days. 

  • Anonymous

    “I remember looking through the card catalog and pouring through stacks
    of books in my college library in search of a book and finding authors
    and titles that were not even on my radar, but due to the “analog”
    nature of my search, our paths crossed and the tome I was not looking
    for ended up changing my life.”

    I remember doing this – and it was no fun …. probably because i often ended up reading really outdated manuals . The thing about google though is that u can almost guarantee that you will land on at least one website that will explain complex theories simply and come across the most recent research

    • One of the liabilities was that the whole process took a lot of time, for sure, and you risk getting outdated information. 

  • I disagree – I find myself on MORE rabbit trails, not less, because of technology.

    When first went to college in the early 90s, the Internet was in its infancy and smart phones didn’t exist yet. If someone said something that peaked my curiosity, I couldn’t look it up immediately… so most of the time, I didn’t look it up at all. By the time I was in a library or in front of the resources that could help, I had either forgotten or lost interest. Now, I have almost instant access to almost endless information from a little device I carry in my pocket!
    Search engines are a tool, just like card catalogs once were. I’ve found things that I never knew existed because of Google, Amazon, and Wikipedia. If auto-complete bothers you, you can turn it off… but at times, it suggests things that I hadn’t thought about and following those suggestions have lead me to many “serendipitous discoveries” of my own. 

    For more scholarly research on sites beyond Google — I love the ability to do full text searches on select books and articles. No card catalog could ever touch that. It helps you find relevant references even within larger works with broader subject matter. You were fortunate if you grew up, went to college, or currently live in an area where the library had all the answers you were looking for and then some. That’s not “normal.” 

    Knowledge is still (and will always be) a differentiator. But as technology advances, the kind of knowledge that makes a difference changes. Memorizing facts might not be so important anymore, but learning how to use technology in a way that promotes your creativity rather than stifles it is knowledge worth having.

    • I make a distinction between knowledge and wisdom. You can access any fact from your smart phone immediately. The ability to know what to do with that comes from experience and wisdom. 

  • ahhh yes, this ability that Google provides definitely has an up and down side… I’m struggling at this one too and with what I call “white out,” a similar problem and what I think of as information overload… my mind at times seems to be distracted with clutter that I need to be better about minimizing… refocusing on the most important stuff only. I often find 10 new “good ideas” when I search/Google, and am distracted from the one really good one that I just needed to fill a missing link. (I’m sure He has something else going on for us to learn here… yep, change is good 🙂 ).

    • Chris, I often have more knowledge than sense, more information than what I know what to do with it. 

  • Craig Osterhus

    Two suggestions: turn off Google Instant in your Search Settings, and visit a library or used bookstore once or twice a month to analog-browse the shelves.

    • Nothing like walking through a bookstore just browsing. Let’s hope there will still be a bookstores around in the near future. 

  • Jamie

    Timely topic. I just finished reading the book, “The Filter Bubble” and found is fascinating and somewhat disturbing. 

    Eli Pariser’s premise is that the web will continue to become more and more an “I-loop” – filtering back to us more and more of what we already “like” and want as opposed to the broader , but less specific information me might want to discover.

    Google’s stated goal is this: When we type a name into the search engine, only THE one page of information we’re seeking will come up. The reason is will be able to do that is because of the millions of cookies and meta-tags it’s already analyzed. Basically, Google will be able to “read your mind” (in a sense) and “know” exactly what you’re looking for. To provide more pages than the “one” will be superfluous.

    • I haven’t heard of the book, but I’ll check it out. 

  • I’m gonna have to agree with Jenni on this one.  I feel I have so much at my fingertips that I often head down rabbit trails when searching for information.   I love the feature on Itunes that shows you “People who bought this also bought this” feature.  I’ve found lots of new music that way.  Otherwise I would only look at what they were promoting or what was the top sellers.

    I thought maybe you were typing this blog on your phone and it auto-corrected “title” to “tome”.  Then I googled Tome and TA-DA! Bret just learned a new word. 

    Bret Pemel-tome

    • Bret, I didn’t say search engines weren’t convenient. 🙂 

  • On the flip side… I’ve been doing some development work lately to let technology handle some of the REALLY mundane things that keep us from being about to reach to people and actually do ministry. Finding what I need FAST from some googleing or a YouTube video came in handy.

  • “Magical internet search engine elves anticipate our search criteria and fill in the rest of word or phrase for us, most of the time with eerily accuracy.”

    This is by far the best line I’ve read on your site. I cracked up!
    And no, you aren’t crazy. I feel the same way actually. It’s easy to find things online, but there is a lot I miss when I get exactly what I think I’m looking for. It’s why when I prepare a message for my college ministry or am doing biblical studies on my own, I try to use my concordance rather than an online bible search (unless I do just need to find a specific verse). I have come across better truths and verses for messages when I do it that way.

    Great post Maurilio!

  • Interesting perspective and, actually, I agree with you. What a sad ‘con’ of the easy search… to miss out on the random discovery of gems of knowledge. I wonder if the search engines could begin listing ‘antonyms’ as well? Or perhaps something similar to sites such as Amazon that list what other people have purchased/viewed. I have discovered new items this way many times.

  • Matt C

    I thnk the concern is not so much digital technology as it is taking the time to discover something new.

    I often give myself time to get stuck in a “YouTube loop”, follow wikipedia down a rabbit trail, StumbleUpon something random, and “I Feel Lucky” with Google.

    Googl, search engines, and technology have no affect on serendipitous discovery. We are only limited by the time we are willing to invest; the same as with a card catalog.

  • I still get those “chance encounters”. I’ve started a creative ritual of Wikipedia hunting. I lookup a topic and click random related links.

    Some of my favorite blog posts came as a result of random Wikipedia excursions. Stories or concepts gave rise to: Seppuku and Creativity, Dr. Seuss and Creative Restrains…fun stuff…

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  • Jack Marshall

    here`s an idea. Don`t have a smart-phone.

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