I met a friend for lunch yesterday – we hadn’t seen each other for twenty years (i.e. since we were in primary school – go on, work with me here) and so had plenty to catch up on. One thing we discussed was the nature of our work – she’s an academic, specialising in Modernist poetry, and, well, you know what I do. We both spend a lot of time researching our respective subjects, and she said something that surprised me: “Isn’t Google amazing?” she said, over a Chelsea bun in Fitzbillies (de rigueur for returning alums). “I’m addicted to it. It’s absolutely life-changing.” (I did check: she was talking about Google, not the Chelsea bun.)
And she was right: Google is life-changing. It has certainly changed the way we do our due diligence. Google it. Check it on Google. Have you looked it up on Google? I know that other search engines are available, to quote the Beeb, but let’s be honest, it’s mostly Google that we use. But therein lies the problem. We learn first to lean on it, then to rely on it – and then to trust it. Not for one moment am I suggesting that Google deliberately misleads us (I suspect they have some crack lawyers on call), but after all it is only a consolidation service: it lists what is “published” elsewhere. (I’m not being precious or snippy about those quotation marks – I just can’t think of the right word for, well, distributing something on the Internet.) So just because something is out there, and Google finds it and provides a link to it, we can’t assume that it is true. In the olden days, when information was distributed in hard copy or via the airwaves, there was always an editorial filter – of greater or lesser reliability, but always a filter. Now, as you know, anyone can publish anything. Heavens, mad AML obsessives can even put out their own blogs and rant at will. So marvellous though Google is as an additional weapon in the CDD arsenal, it must be treated with caution, and information gathered through it should be corroborated and/or supported by evidence – which is why my friend finished her Chelsea bun, wiped the dark syrup from her hair (yes, they’re that messy) and went to the university library to double-check what she had found on Google.