Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Power of Suggestion


Since it was launched in 2010, Google’s auto-complete function has been providing fascinating insights into the collective search habits of millions of Internet users. This is made possible because the algorithm attempts to predict the as-yet-un-typed portion of your request based on geographical location, language, and popularity. This is why typing the word “clothing” causes Google to suggest a search for “clothing stores.” Statistically speaking, the majority of Internet users who started with the word “clothing” ended up clicking on links to “clothing stores.”

Because the online zeitgeist is constantly shifting, it is possible that you will not even receive the same suggestions for same question on different days. As a bonus, one can begin typing a common phrase and, technologically speaking, take the collective pulse of the nation. So on August 16th of this year, I captured the following results....

The irony of some search suggestions is only apparent when they are juxtaposed against one another:

If one were to compare the 4th most popular result for each search they would almost seem to answer each other. Apparently men can’t understand the emotional complexity of the feminine mystique and women can’t understand why they are still attracted to someone incapable of understanding them. It is also worth noting that both sexes find the other to be “mean.”

Some search strings may seem wildly disconnected at first but may contain a common thread:

Once someone has obtained enough easy money they can afford neckties, having obtained said neckties they realize that do not know how to tie them, this realization exacerbates their sense of alienation amongst their new peer-group leading to depression and suicide. Once deceased they will be able to reach their target weight with minimal effort.

Searching for the converse, however, just seems prideful:


While the rest of the world is seeking out a quick payday in a clip-on tie, these people have run out of realms to conquer. This is evidenced by the fact they have enough spare time to play Pokemon and Skyrim while attempted a Hawking Reverse Windsor Knot.

The next phrase I entered returned a rather grim digression of importance:


In a presidential election year, I was unsurprised that Google’s first recommendation involved candidate selection. From there things took a dark turn. I can only pray that these people do not comprise the majority of registered voters. If you do not possess the comprehension skills necessary to decide whose Tweets you wish to receive, you may not be mentally prepared to participate in the electoral process.

As for Skyrim question, the answer is irrelevant as you will ultimately die alone.

My foray into meaning and purpose was rather dispiriting as well:


How quickly we go from validating our continued existence to whether or not to keep check stubs. Is there really nothing occupying the space between those two concerns? I am starting to think that Google should editorialize a little on these suggestions because I hate to think that the same people are responsible for both searches. I can just picture some guy lowering a pistol from his head as he mutters to himself, “That was a close one, and to think I almost threw those stubs away!”

As for the Skyrim question, please see above.

Sometimes Google’s algorithm can be so accurate it manifests itself as a form of technological clairvoyance. For example, when I began typing the phrase “how should I tell my…” into Google it returned these suggestions in descending order:


The progression is as logical as it is uncanny. Girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy, girl is forced to consult the Internet for suggestions because her deadbeat boyfriend can’t stop playing Skyrim long enough to participate in a mature conversation.

As a side note, when asking Google how to tell your parents you are pregnant the first result is Yahoo! Answers and the prevailing wisdom alternates between “they should be seated” and “you are not mature enough to procreate.” All sound advice.

The research for this has taught me two important things:
1.       People rely too heavily on the advice of registered users of Yahoo! Almost every single question returned Yahoo! Answers as the highest ranked authority. While this is not always bad, I am not sure that I would take career advice from someone named “PimpCheetah3” who selected a hamster holding a bong as their profile pic.
2.      I need to invest heavily in the company that produced Skyrim because apparently its importance to human existence is only narrowly eclipsed by democracy and self-preservation.  

2 comments:

  1. Your observations are so interesting and yet funny! This is a great post, I enjoyed it,

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    1. Exceptional MediocritySeptember 7, 2012 at 2:29 PM

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