Google Instant Search – Breaking the Window


This is the war to take over our lives, or at least to change our conceptual world significantly. The Google/Windows rivalry is just a battle. It’s no secret that Google want to create artificial intelligence, to ‘tell us what we need to do before we know that we want it’, to paraphrase Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Marissa Mayer. Arguably, Google already has developed artificial intelligence but we don’t care yet. Google has been treading very lightly on our ideas of who we are and whether or not we are in control of our computers/ing and our interaction with the whole wide web.

Google Instant Search breaks the window. It crashes through the screen and changes our comfortable ideas of diegetic/nondiegetic space and self. We all tend to think that the computer screen is a window to a big outside world. The outside world is what we negotiate with. Will we allow that website or file in? Start that conversation? Send that image? We press ENTER. We ENTER an agreement that we are now interacting in some way with that outside world. We have given permission.

Think of the privacy storm that erupted when Google Maps cars detected our Australian home wifi signals without our permission! Sure we were broadcasting like crazy but we didn’t tell Google they could listen! That information was our private home. Google crossed the boundary.

I have been fascinated by the roll out of personalized Google Search, which personally broke through my comfort level. I now have to double check my search findings against the search findings I might have got if Google didn’t assume that I was that particular person who lives in this country and likes x and y. Then I have to wonder what else is being left out. Quite a few studies have shown that the internet is not creating diverse heterogenous communities but further dividing the world into walled gardens – ‘cyber Balkanization’.

Now any good technogeek will tell you that we always were sending data to and fro. I believe that the use of the word download to mean only certain sorts of large or dangerous files which we explicitly ask for UNLESS the other party is being really spammy has undermined our self education. Most people don’t see their computer as continually ACTIVELY sending information out. Especially not WITHOUT PERMISSION. I think most people would call that a virus. And yet, whenever we browse the web, visit our facebook, read our mail, watch a whatever, we are broadcasting.

We just haven’t caught on yet. I still emotionally feel that my computer, my window, is a screen. There is a barrier between my self and the rest of the internet. A physical barrier that makes me feel safely separate. Is Google Instant Search the straw that breaks the camel’s back, that breaks through the screen, that shatters the window?

I am now AWARE that my computer is watching me. Actively engaged with me. I no longer need to ENTER the net (or atleast the google index which is all I actually enter when I search). Google Instant Search is delivering my search to me as I compose it. Soon my fingers won’t even have to touch the keyboard (think subvocalisation or brain wave headsets). The net is coming through the screen, right back at me. It’s here. It’s aware (atleast of what I want). It starts to feel alive. It’s watching me.

Google have also been trying out an ambient search which allows them to use your computer’s microphone to detect the background noise in your house and know contextual information like what tv show or music you are watching or listening too. And then target your advertizing and information appropriately. I’m sure the sound of baby crying or dog barking will also be useful.

We forgot, in our take up of the windows metaphor, that it’s a two way view. We see out. Others see in. Google Instant Search has shattered the screen or glass and the window is showing us to the world. Privacy is the new luxury. Being off may be the new sign that you are really really switched on.

Any good cyber culture (digital culture) student would be aware that this separation of self and screen is always a constructed and negotiated division. But it used to be more physically distinct. We didn’t often break through, we couldn’t touch the actors in a film or movie. But now, they can touch us. Kind of. Google is playing with our minds. We have ENTERED a constant conversation with an agile, responsive and intelligent construct. We are no longer SENDing messages of to a slave machine. This is a companion being.

Donna Haraway’s post cyborg work on companion species has been leading us to this moment. So many scifi fans and scientists have been waiting for the SETI search to contact extraterrestrial life. Google Instant Search may be the wake up call we need to realise that there is a lot of intraterrestrial life in communication and companionship with us already.

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