That’s the big selling point of Google Instant: it shaves, on average, two-to-five seconds from every search you do. That’s a valuable chunk of time, right there: that’s the time it takes me to take a sip from my cup of coffee, or if I’m feeling particularly dexterous, grab a nibble from the adjacent chocolate chip cookie.
Unfortunately, with the advent of Google Instant, which immediately calls up search result pages predicted from one’s typing, my coffee goes cold and my cookie remains poised halfway to its demise.
Both wide- and glassy-eyed, I periodically mutter “accessing“, like the first time Data hacks into the Borg Collective, as cascading sheets of information flit hypnotically past my paralysed visual cortex.
I’ve been found in this comatose condition several times since Google Instant launched on the 8th of September, 2010, with old drool drips drying on my shirt front and a slight tremor to my cookie hand; my body’s natural defence mechanisms valiantly postponing the onset of muscular atrophy.
Tortoises or somesuch
What Google Instant most reminds me of is being interrupted when I’m talking.
It breaks my train of thought. I may be pursuing the thread of an idea, only to be rudely (though sometimes gratefully) prodded by another, more compelling (but not directly related) notion. And off I tangent, ne’er to return.
Five hours later I’ll be watching a Youtube video on mating giant tortoises or somesuch, and suddenly I’ll wonder what the hell I’m doing there. It’s like a drunken binge without the alcohol.
It’s also like mistakenly engaging the pub’s most monotonous busybody in conversation: “So I was walking down the street the other day–” you’ll begin.
“…Erm, Primrose Street. Y’know, just around the corner from–”
“Do you know why it’s called ‘Primrose Street’?”
“Ah well, listen to this!”
Thereafter follows a thirty-minute directory of shudderingly obnoxious historical minutiae, reminding you that avoiding this person’s conversational entrapment is like dodging the teeth of a well-oiled trap. Half-an-hour later, you’re led from his blood-drenched, twitching body by several police officers to the tumultuous applause of the landlord and the beaming regulars.
If only we lived in a just world.
Thankfully, Google Instant can be turned off, so my worries of becoming even more of a mindless automaton are a little assuaged. The prevailing idea of Google Instant is that saving such small slices of time stacks up, so if you’re a business that employs 10,000 people, who each search, say, five times a day, a total of about 48½ man-hours would be saved every workday.
Google extrapolates to a global saving of 11 hours per second. While this may sound impressive, I predict the global figure for Larking About may well increase by a similarly significant ratio.
Hooray for n!
It’s a telling phenomenon that as technology improves, our work weeks have actually grown longer, when, it seems to me, the reverse should actually be the case. Clever people with a pedantic predilection for analysis may well say “Ah yes. But overall productivity per work unit time has increased by a factor of n.” or something equally mysterious.
But the fact remains: by this stage of the technology development game, I should be swaddled in a hammock by an exotic beach, conducting my drudgery via a few casual touch-screen flicks. Sadly, this is nowhere near the case.
One particularly enjoyable consequence of a launch of this magnitude is the accompanying advertising.
In an unsubtle bid to demonstrate the ease and convenience of Google Instant, one Google commercial parades a procession of people before us we are obviously supposed to think of as typically technologically inept. One of these characters is an old man in a checked shirt, who is rapidly becoming famous in his own right.
His near legendary ejaculation: “I didn’t even have to press ‘Enter’!” has driven this particular commercial to the viral proportions usually reserved for snippets of extreme Japanese pornography, really bad drivers, or cats doing something vaguely human.
“I didn’t even have to press ‘Enter’!”
Whether Google intended this commercial to actively appeal to a broader, more technologically homely demographic, or appear so clumsy to help drive its viral capacity, or a brilliant combination of the two is open to conjecture. I’m starting to suspect the latter. Google is, after all, Google. But then, Google did, after all, release Google Wave.
So what does Google Instant mean for us? Though such a change might make a difference to companies that employ thousands of workers who rely heavily on Google searching as part of their job description, the answer, in reality, is not much.
If you’re working in a job that saving two-to-five seconds per search would make a significant difference to your workday, it might be an opportune time for a career switch. Maybe to something with a more vigorous physical component, like data entry.
Now, where’s that cookie? Mmmm. Chocolate chip.
Stefan Abrutat is an award-winning freelance writer, blogger and editor in a wide variety of fields, from sports to science, the philosophy of science, humourism, history, travel and food.