Thursday 22 February 2018

Google shows who we really are -- and it's not pretty

Philip Hensher

Who, as the High Court judge in the anecdote might say, is Miss Kim Kardashian? Well, this is not one of those columns where someone tries to prove their superiority by not knowing who the stars of popular culture are. She was on the telly in a documentary about her family. She has a number of sisters, one called, unforgettably, Khloe. I wouldn't swear to be able to recognise her. But that hardly matters. Because these days, you can Google her.

Google made the shortest proprietary-name-to-verb journey in history. It took 12 years from the registering of the Hoover in 1927 before someone said in print, "I was Hoovering my passage" and a little longer before it lost the proprietary capital letter. Google was launched in September 1998, and by October 1999, someone was writing, intransitively, "Has anyone Googled?" on a message board. Three months later, in January 2000, it had lost its capital letter.

"To google" is not quite to research, or to find something out: it is more like "to find", or "to be reminded", or something of that sort. The claim that it is at the centre of our knowledge, our communal memory, and our interests is made by the company itself. It releases, every year, a list of the most popular topics searched for by its users in every country.

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