Thursday, March 28, 2019
Have you used a Search Engine recently?
I have. I was looking for an author, based in my part of the world, the North West of England. A friend had told me about him. He's called John Lock and he writes crime fiction, something I'm interested in. I thought I'd give him a try.
I typed 'John Lock' into Google, and immediately got that annoying thing at the top of the page, that says: “Did you mean?” In my case it said 'Did you mean 'John Locke'?' No, I didn't. My guy is spelt differently. No 'e' at the end of his name. Still, I thought I'd give this John Locke (with an 'e') a go. It turns out he writes crime fiction too. But he comes from the Deep South of America, and writes stories that veer between New York, L.A. and Washington D.C. His hero is a violent psychopath, hired as an assassin by various gangsters. Not nice. Also, there's a lot of swearing.
Having determined that John Locke (with an 'e') wasn't for me, I went back to looking for John Lock, the Brit, (and no swearing). Google suggested another John Locke, (with an 'e'), and yes, it was someone I had heard of this time. The 18th century British philosopher. Wow, he's written a lot of books. But no crime fiction. I didn't want to make a fuss, but hey, I know what I'm looking for.
Now this is odd. It wouldn't work in real life, of course. Imagine you went into a library, and asked the man behind the desk for John Lock (no 'e'). Suppose he said: “You don't want him. You want John Locke, (with an 'e'). He's American. Lots of people ask for him. In fact, he's written a book called 'How I Sold a Million e-books in 5 months'. He's very popular.” You'd think: Great, but, you know, I really do want John Lock, British author. A choice of eight e-book novels, apparently. So far. (Although he may not have sold a million copies. Just yet.)
You wouldn't take such nonsense from a librarian, would you? So why do we put up with it from a computer? Well, maybe because it isn't the computer at fault. It's the guys who programme it. It's the Google engineers who are busy deciding what people really want. I might say, 'I want John Lock'. They say, 'No, you don't. You want John Locke'. How could they possibly make that assumption? Simple. They are working from what the last thousand people wanted. Those enquirers typed in John Lock (no 'e') but they'd made a mistake: they didn't want the Brit, they wanted the Yank, and that's where they ended up. So, rather than tramp you around the houses, the Google guys are going to cut to the chase. Here's John Locke, they say. Don't bother thanking us.
Bastards. It's not meant to happen. I want something – trifle or trivia – and, the story used to go, we're the Search Engine and we'll take you there. Not any more. There was even meant to be ways of qualifying your search. No dice. I tried that too. I typed in: 'John Lock NOT John Locke'. The 'not' is meant to exclude stuff you don't want. It doesn't. Not now. Google is one step ahead. They've disabled that function. The last thousand people didn't need it, so why should you? Bastards.
In a way, we should thank the team at Google. They've given us an insight into what life must have been like in Italy in the 1920s when the Fascists were in charge. Trade Unionists were sent to prison, communists were killed. There was one guy in charge, El Duce, and he told everyone what to think. Mussolini. He was the wise guy who knew best. These days we've got El Googlé, and they know best, or so they imagine. A shame. At one stage, we were told how the internet was going to make people free; it was 'open' and 'democratic'. Now the fascists have taken over. It's a totalitarian state, and, the irony is, that it's all being done in the name of being 'helpful'. After all, they say, you don't really want 'John Lock', do you? It's all in your head. It's a mistake, on your part. Forget it. Go where we send you. We know best.