How many times a day do you say “Google it?” For those with kids, how many times do you instruct them to ‘Google it?” Across the world, there are 7.6 billion people but only about 4 billion have access to the Internet. Google, with a market share of 78 per cent, responds to 3.5 billion search queries every day. That is over 40,000 every single second! It also means that, across the entire Internet connected world, every single person is averaging at least one query per day.

Which begs the question. What did we do before Google? (To be more accurate, what did we do before search engines?)

Google was launched on 4 September 1998 so it will shortly turn twenty. If we assume that most of us can’t remember much before the age of five, it means that everyone in our connected society over the age of twenty-five has grown up knowing the answer to any problem is to “Google it.” Going further, the World Wide Web was started in 1989 so, by the same logic, most people over the age of 34 have grown up in a world where the Internet is part of normal life.

So what did we do in the old days?

In my case, I simply asked my Dad. He was the font of all knowledge in my eyes. In hindsight, as I grew up, I realised that he was incredibly intelligent but some information he gave me was more an educated estimate rather than incredibly accurate information to ten decimal places – but that was more than acceptable. For really tough questions, he would access an out of date set of encyclopaedias to drill down into an accurate answer. I recently showed my youngest daughter an old family set of encyclopaedias from the seventies along with several year books and went through the process of looking up the index and checking in year books and…she thought I had two heads. The look on her face said everything. How could anyone possibly go through this process just to find out some information? In her world, every imaginable question was able to be answered by a small device in her pocket. It is amazing how jobs change. There were door-to-door salesmen who would sell encyclopaedia sets on time-payment plans to “benefit the education of your children” and companies solely focused on researching and printing the information. Radio shows were based on experts being available for people to call in and pose their difficult questions. Newspapers and magazines had dedicated columns to questions from readers that would be posted in and then answered in the next weekly or monthly column. Imagine waiting an entire month for an answer! People like Ms Megabyte (Yvonne Adele) and Dr. Karl made their name (and income) from being able to answer difficult questions that are now able to be answered by a five-year-old with a Tablet.

Libraries used to be a place where people would visit and collaborate and answer questions. The New York Public Library once used to act as a human form of Google. People could write questions and submit them to the staff to be answered using the resources of the library. An old box of cards was recently discovered and some of the questions were posted on Instagram. See the irony here?

Some interesting questions posed: “1948. Where can I get all available statistics…in the sale of cadavers?” “1949. Can mice throw up?” “1949. If a poisonous snake bites itself, will it die?” “1947. At what time is high noon?” You can imagine some of these questions may have taken months of research in the library but now, apart from maybe the answer to the statistics on cadavers, all of these questions can easily by answered by a kid with a phone.

Apart from being able to answer questions of curiosity, for anyone involved in research or gathering information, the access to the world at our fingertips has forever changed the accuracy of information and the convenience in how we gain access.

I wonder how we will access information in another twenty years? I better go and Google it!

Mathew Dickerson

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