“Google it”

OR The anti-social media

The human mind is capable of giving birth to some pretty ugly words and sayings. Contrary to that old saw, words can actually hurt. Or at the very least, annoy. And these days, few phrases annoy me quite as much as these three words: “just google it”. Not on their own, and not all the time, understandably, but within the context of a conversation wherein one party wishes to suss out a bit of information and the other, quite simply, cannot be bothered to give any answer other than “Just google it.”

“To google” has made its way into the English language, along with a million (no exaggeration) other words, such as “selfie” or “bouncebackability”. I shit you not. I remember fondly how in 2012 the Oxford dictionaries word of the year (for the UK, at least) was “omnishambles” from “The thick of it”, a show that I really liked. And it was followed the very next year by “selfie”, at which point I had – as the popular saying goes – lost all faith in humanity. It’s a funny thing, faith. If Facebook is anything to go by, it is lost and found easier and more often that a smoker quits and subsequently picks up his habit again.

Now, say you wanted to know which was the Oxford word of the year in 2012: what would you do? You could ask a friend, either on your messaging platform du jour or face to face – but that doesn’t happen anymore, does it? And your friend might say “oh, in 2012 it was omnishambles. The word was invented for that BBC show, ‘The thick of it’. And it was in a line delivered by a character called Malcolm Tucker – a man so verbally violent, his full name is Malcolm F Tucker. I’ll let you guess what the F stands for.”

But more likely, they’ll say “Just google it.” And you might feel annoyed, even angry, you might feel as if you’ve been punched or spat on – especially if you’re in that rare instance where you’re standing right next to them – I won’t say “face to face” because they’re probably just muttering into their chin as they’re in the midst of sending their thousandth text of the day.

And that’s where the problem is.

The act of conversation is not just the passing on of information. It is not simply a mechanism by which we transfer one bit of data from one brain to another. We are not computers. We are human beings, damn it! And we need social interaction. If someone is asking you where to find a good Indonesian restaurant, don’t say “Google Maps”. Engage in conversation, swap stories from your favourite restaurants, discuss your taste in spiced noodles, argue that chicken saté is either the best way to prepare chicken or just a hipster fad. Even if it gets you nowhere, even if you don’t actually find an Indonesian restaurant and eventually wind up googling it anyway, at least you will have spent time actually talking to another human being. Enjoy that rush of endorphins!

This is the great irony of the internet and, ultimately, social media: a tool that was designed and meant to bring us together, only serves to set us further apart. Because absent of actual tragedies, there is nothing sadder than failing a fellow human being because you were too busy playing Candy Crush. In a time when it has never been easier to reach out and talk to someone from across the globe, it is yet so easy to shut people out.

I once read in an article that people who are systematically shut out by their peers, who suffer from being constantly ignored and told off – denied basic forms of social interaction – these people suffer an acute form of stress akin to combat fatigue.

I’d tell you what that article was. But you know what?

Just google it.