Isn’t it strange how often we say this during a day? The universal cure-all for any and all questions or dilemmas we encounter on a daily basis. Who was in the team that won the championship? How many kilometers to Oslo? What is the actual weather in Kuala Lumpur right now and what are the working hours of the restaurant we are visiting for the weekend/how to get there? We wonder what shows are playing in theaters, what is the newest Trump tweet drama or what does your high-school sweetheart look like now? No problem! All of these queries (and many, many more) are known to Google – the only thing you need to do to get the answer is google it.
Only two decades ago, if you were to say “Just google it” to anyone who asked any of the above questions you would be stared at for a while. The stare would probably be followed by a polite “Excuse me, would you be so kind to repeat that?” and once you do, that person would be speeding away from your direction, thoroughly convinced that your mental health is check-up worthy.
Easy and quick access to a plethora of information – from science or expert data to bizarre and common stuff – has simplified our life making it impossible to imagine a version of everyday reality without googling something. Becoming an intrinsic part of our daily routine so fast, Google and later Facebook and other social media platforms have become intertwined with our lives to such an extent that we don’t even notice the changes that occurred. This is particularly reflected in being unaware of how badly addicted we have become to the services offered.
One of the main reasons for the success of Google & the merry IT bunch is that they have become new communication platforms globally. At the very beginning, users providing data in online communication was just the byproduct of their interaction on the platforms. As the IT revolution started and online services have become part of everyday life, the marketing industry was the first one to understand the commercial potential of the expansion. Internet started off as just another communication channel, susceptible to carrying promos and commercials.
Unlike other marketing channels, this one offered information on numbers of users reached, as well as the number of those who clicked the message. Google recognized that opportunity as a proper core for a new business – basing their projection modules on click-through data analysis. That became the origin of ad-targeting – a business model of reselling consumer attention.
The decade from the origin of the model saw things expanding and developing at an increased pace. As online communication started becoming easier, faster and simpler – building up on inner complexity of the model of the apps turning verbal communication into visual – the amount of data we were providing also increased in turn. Tech companies now already know the value of the data, and they keep developing algorithms to analyze the information for better categorization and profiling of users/consumers. The shift actually made a consumer and its behavior into a product for the advertisers.
For the price of the product to increase, generating higher profits (simple goal of every capitalism-based market player), communication between users has to steadily intensify. This is something that is carefully nurtured and stimulated – as it has been confirmed last year following a leak of an internal memo sent to Facebook employees. In 2016 Andrew Bosworth, one of Mark Zuckerberg’s closest advisors sent the following lines to its associates: “We connect people… Maybe someone finds love… Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. The ugly truth is that… anything that allows us to connect more people more often is de facto good.” It sounds eerie how the radical indifference echoes from every word of the memo, but looking at the world we live in, we should be aware that is our reality.
So, for the aim to be reached, users of the services have to be categorized and profiled with high precision. The algorithms developed are targeting us not only with sponsored ads but with non-commercial content as well – the content that was calculated to be of interest for the consumer. This makes consumers believe that they picked the content themselves through a Google search, whereas the content was actually planted and picked by someone else. Price of us as a product is thereby increasing, as we become more addicted to the information that is placed and more susceptible to influences outside our sphere of control – closing in the vicious circle. The shift is heavily influenced by the accelerated development of AI and ”smart” devices that we surround ourselves with – all of which is only further feeding information useful for profiling algorithms to fine-tune their analysis. Does this possibly mean that we are actually being downgraded from a product to a mere raw material?
The ride is unfortunately not over yet. Same tech that is humanizing the machines by virtue of AI is making people become more robotic, reducing our role to a screw in a mechanism of data manipulation. “Big brother” knows us so well that it can both predict and direct our behavior. This topic, among others, is covered by Shoshana Zuboff in “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”: and as a reference, feel free to peruse the following quote: “There was a time when you searched Google, but now Google searches you”.
Don’t worry, there is no reason for panic, all is good. Just keep Googling…