Forget oxycodone. The most addictive drug is Google. And we’re past the point at which it’s just a ‘choice.’


Back on this post from yesterday, we were having the usual argument about the intrusiveness of private companies vs. the government, and as usual someone said “my use of Google Maps is voluntary,” an assertion which I questioned.

My use of Google Maps and other Google products is no longer in the realm of what I consider to be “voluntary.”

Google is as much a part of the daily infrastructure of my life, and the things I need to get done, as the streets I drive on. Its services are something I rely on, in a more direct, frequent and ubiquitous manner, than I do the direct services of the police.

I don’t see how to engage modern life without it — or something exactly like it. I couldn’t get through a day of ADCO work without it, much less publish this blog. Without Google, both of my active email accounts go away, my browser (the instantaneous searches that occur when you type into the URL field, making it unnecessary to know the address of anything, is indispensable) disappears; there’s no YouTube, no really utilitarian Maps program, and then all sorts of other useful things like Google Books, Translate (no longer can I just say, Well, that’s French and I don’t understand French… no excuse), etc. Without Google Images, I have to fall back on my highly flawed memory for names and faces.

One can attempt to drop off the grid and no longer use Google, just as one can drop out of society at large — quit paying one’s taxes, go live in the wilderness off the land. Theoretically, at least.

But the cost of doing either is pretty high…

Yes, there are other services that do these things. But that’s not the point. If Yahoo or AOL had succeeded in being what Google is, or if Facebook were to succeed in being what it wants to be, then it would be the same thing; we’d just be calling it something different. And why ever use competing services for any of these functions, when the very fact that they are all knit together seamlessly magnifies their utility exponentially? I would no more want to switch platforms than I would want to try to leave the roads and drive on a railroad track in my car.

Kathryn writes, “Google is a gateway drug.”

Yes. And more addictive than most.

I always had trouble with being distracted by looking things up. It was just too seductive. A dictionary on my desk was a dangerous thing. I couldn’t look up a word without running across several other words on the way that fascinated me, and each of them led to other words, and on and on.

Fortunately, I had a good vocabulary, and seldom really needed to look up a word.

But now that I can, instantly, look up anything, I cannot stop doing it. A thought about a word or a fact that causes my brain to wonder or doubt even slightly (something I have always done, constantly; it’s just that for the first decades of my life it was harder to scratch that itch) sends me on an immediate search.

For instance, last night I watched “Looper.” Almost immediately, I wondered who the protagonist was. It looked remotely like , but the expression and even facial structure was wrong (It was him, but he wore extensive makeup to make himself look like a young Bruce Willis). Then I thought, “Isn’t Bruce Willis in this? Why haven’t I seen him?” So I checked, and yeah, he was coming up. I see Emily Blunt’s in it. Isn’t she the girl who… ? Yes, she is. She’s really something. Jeff Daniels is surprisingly good in this. What’s his character’s name again? And so forth… (By the way, the movie wasn’t very satisfying.)

OK, so most of that was IMDB, and IMDB isn’t Google. Yet. But the fact is, I often use Google to flesh out what I find in the movie database, because the info there is pretty sketchy. I like depth in my trivia. I used to do this with my phone, which is always clipped to my belt. Now, I usually have the iPad within reach as well.

In any case, now that it’s possible to look things up constantly, I can’t stop.

You can point to this as a character flaw (or perhaps an illness), and you have a good argument. But aside from the compulsive aspect, a certain amount of this is necessary to practically everything I do, everywhere I go.

Let’s say that a person only really needs to use these services a tenth as much as I do. I could concede that. But if a person doesn’t at least use them that tenth amount, he’s not going to be able to keep pace with the world and interact with other people at the pace that society demands — at least, not in anything I’ve ever done for a living. (Yes, I know that lots and lots of jobs today are still not information-based.)

That puts Google into the realm of essential infrastructure, again like the roads that are a function of government.

It at least gets us to where any assertion that one is not forced to deal with Google (or, for the sake of argument, with some other “private” entity that’s just as useful) on fairly thin ice.

7 thoughts on “Forget oxycodone. The most addictive drug is Google. And we’re past the point at which it’s just a ‘choice.’

  1. Doug Ross

    Next you’ll be suggesting that Google become part of the Federal Government.

    As someone who has spent his entire adult life (and some of my pre-adult life) working with computers, I don’t agree with you. Google is definitely a choice. It is voluntary and optional. It is also relatively easy to circumvent Google tracking your movements and your browsing history. I can disconnect from Google any time I feel like it.


    We are in the infancy of data mining today… it will only become more intrusive.

    I have serious doubts about the ability of the government to protect the data it collects and to only use it in ways that are beneficial. We don’t know what data is being collected and how it is being used now. You fall back on the “trust me, I’m from the government” fantasy way too much.

  2. bud

    Doug, I agree that the government can be overbearing and we need to be very wary of anything they tell us but and I the government but not more than from unregulated capitalism. It’s a tough balancing act but big business can be just as dangerous as big government. And at times great things are accomplished by both the government and big business. Just call me paranoid but its probably best not to completely trust any big entity including big religion.

  3. Norm Ivey

    Virtually every service provided by Google was provided by someone else first. Remember Dogpile and Alta Vista? Mapquest is still out there, but who cares? My school district (Richland 2) has virtually abandoned Office in favor of Google Docs. A Chromebook costs less than $300. Google didn’t invent the mousetrap; they just built a better one. And the world beat a path to their door.

    Google is not a gateway drug, but just a gateway. We have at our fingertips more information than our parents encountered in their lifetime. We are able to engage in conversations with folks we’ll never meet. There are more ideas on Ted Talks than angels on a pinhead. When television was in its infancy, it held the potential to become a great leveler of society just as the printing press did in the Middle Ages. It failed to rise to that level, but the Internet has taken up its slack, and Google is a very big reason why. Google engages us with the world.

    As for living without it, you can have my Google when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

  4. Doug Ross

    When it comes to income inequality it really boils down to who has the capacity to take advantage of the technology available to them versus those who do not.

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    Our apartment here in Germany does not have internet, and we do not have smart phones. I have to wait until weekday afternoons to go online. At first, it was annoying not to be able to gratify every question I had, but now i appreciate the boundary. I read more books, for one.

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