The best way to know something is to look it up!

The writer Philip Gulley cracks me up. Gulley has written several books and he also writes a monthly column in the city magazine, Indianapolis. His take on life is a wry, dry, take-life-as-it-comes sort of wide-eyed optimism that I can fully identify with. He can see the humor in every situation…even if that humor is ironic and off kilter.

I recently read an article Gulley wrote about being without the internet for three days. The article featured a litany of things he never had in his childhood and early life, but now cannot live without. (Spoiler alert, the internet was not one of them.) It might help you to understand Gulley to know that bungee cords were prominent on this list.

Anyway, the article (and this being November, the month of thankfulness (in spite of elections)) got me thinking about things I use in my life and for which I am not sufficiently thankful.

Google came to mind. I doubt that there are any of my readers who don’t know what Google is, but I try to use my mom as my target audience and she would require a bit of explanation if I started any conversation with the word Google, so let me briefly explain the noun/verb Google.

To do that, I’ll have to use Google. According to Wikipedia (that’s a definition for another day), in technical terms, Google is a search algorithm developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Development began sometime around 1996, and at the time it was being developed, Google was tentatively named “BackRub.” I do not know why. No one ever should try to guess where these technical types come up with names for their projects. Anyway, the company that became Google was actually launched in 1998.

I can imagine a sort of blank look as I make this very unhelpful explanation to my mom…what’s a search algorithm? Let’s see. My aunt was a librarian for all the years of my childhood. If I ever had to know anything, I could catch a ride downtown and climb the stone steps of the Carnegie library in my town. At the top of the steps, I entered a very special world with its own special smell and a quiet, peaceful authority. My aunt’s office was behind an official looking wooden checkout desk and I had the special dispensation to walk up to that desk and ask if Aunt Kathryn was available. She always was. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was in for everyone…I had no special “in” with her.

I could ask Aunt Kathryn anything. She didn’t know everything, but here’s the thing…she knew how to find out anything. And she didn’t just give me an answer to my question, she pointed me to the card catalogue or the reference section which gave me, not an answer, but several answers, from which I could draw my own choice answer, right or wrong.

That’s Google.

You ask Google a question, any question, and Google will go out on the internet and search for an answer. It will usually return hundreds of thousands of possible answers, but based on that algorithm we don’t really understand, the best answer to your question can usually be found in the first 5 or 6 possible answers.

This service does not cost a penny, but there are some pretty significant costs for using it. Just so you know, Google keeps track of your searches and of you, and you are likely to see an ad for whatever you last searched for pop up on the next internet page that loads. Lately, I’ve notice that when I go to a brick and mortar store and look at a particular item, that item also pops up in future ads on my internet. I’m not sure how that happens, but I think that’s Google, too.

The lesson is that, sort of like I wouldn’t ask Aunt Kathryn for certain bits of knowledge I did not want shared with my Mom, I don’t ask Google everything I want to know.

Thanks, Mr. Gulley, for making me think about this. Google is great and it’s one of the things I am thankful for this November.

Even if it does scare me just a little.

Things I found out from Google when researching this blog:

A Carnegie library is a library built with money donated by Scottish businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. At one point there were over 3,500 Carnegie libraries in the US. I was disappointed to find that Google couldn’t tell me how many are actually still in operation today. The one in my hometown, Aunt Kathryn’s library is.

Philip Gulley lives in Danville, Indiana. He’s a Quaker pastor who is the son of a Catholic mother and a Baptist father. That right there is grist for a lot of stories! He’s a writer and a front porch philosopher with a very Hoosier outlook on life. There’s a lot more about him online, you can Google him if you want to know!

The name Google is a variant of googol, a word that sort of means very large numbers.

There are at least 14 other search engines you can use besides Google. I also like Dogpile and Duck Duck Go (as I said, don’t ask me to explain where tech people come up with these names…but you could Google that, too).