Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Internet Lie #7

If the search engine didn’t find it, it isn’t there.

Not only is this not true, there is no way to distinguish between what is truly not there (or no longer there) and what can’t be found at this moment. There’s literally no way to know whether what the search engine didn’t find is really there or not. People need to understand two things. One is that search engines, no matter how good, will never be perfect. The other is we may never know—at any given moment—just how far from perfect they are.

We’ve already discussed many of the reasons pages aren’t found, such as:

    Searching only means searching the index cache.
    Once indexed pages lose relevance and drop out of the cache.
    It can take a search engine a month to find a new web page.
    And up to six weeks for that page to appear in the cache.
    Many web pages are short-lived.
    One study said one billion pages disappear each week.

You might think search engines would be concerned about not delivering what you request. They’re not. Their goal is another word beginning with D. Like distraction. Or diversion, as in entertainment, amusement, play, or recreation.

“Google is, quite literally, in the business of distraction.” — Nicholas Carr, The Shallows

Here are some quotes from Is the Internet Changing The Way We Think?, edited by John Brockman.

“The trancelike state we fall into while following the undirected path of links”

“surfing can be addictive”

“‘Online addiction’ has long been a technical term in psychiatry.”

“the Internet is both the Great Source of information and the Great Distractor”

“The Internet is simultaneously the world’s greatest time saver and the world’s greatest time waster in history.”

And, from the same book, a quote from an unknown search engine developer: “We developed this thing so that you don’t have to waste time to start wasting time. Now you can start wasting time right away.”


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