When I moved house two years ago, I started to rely on Google for navigation. Now, I am utterly dependent. I don’t just want to know the way – I want to know the best way, as of this minute. I can’t remember the last time I gave a thought to where anything was.
“How do I buy an A-Z?” I ask my wife.
“I don’t even know that you can,” she says. I think: Google would know.
A-Zs are still widely available, as I discover after I take the bus to the closest bookshop on my severely depleted mental map. While I am there, I run across a book called Offline – which promises to help me “avoid the potentially disastrous side-effects of digital pollution”. I am reminded how big a role serendipitous discovery used to play in pre-Google research.
On the way home, I drop by my nearest library for the first time. It is a tiny branch, and the computing section is mostly dedicated to programming manuals, a fair number with the words “for Dummies” in the title. Everybody else in the room is looking at Google. I am sure this borough has a bigger central branch, but I have no idea where it is. An A-Z only works with an address. You can’t just look up “library”.
Later, I find my son in the kitchen, making tea. He was born in 1999, so he has never known a world without Google.
“So, it’s the first day of my week without Google,” I tell him.
“You’re switching search engines?” he asks.
“No, that’s not the point,” I say.
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