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To Google or not to Google


Tech Culture

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A friend of mine recently brought me up to speed on a man she had just met. They were booked for a lunch date the next weekend. “Sounds great,” I said. “What did you find on Google?”

She didn’t Google him, she told me. It didn’t feel right. It felt, actually, a little wrong.

“I Google everyone!” I cried, and she peered at me as if I was the mastermind behind Prism.

Were there really ethical implications to Googling someone? This had never occurred to me. Wasn’t a search on the computer the modern equivalent of passing notes in sixth grade, asking your best friend to ask his best friend if he liked you and was neat-o?

Besides, anything in the reach of a Google search was technically public information.

My friend agreed. Getting the basics on someone seemed okay. “But digging deeper, searching out details like who they’ve dated, how long, searching out videos … I can’t say it’s unethical, but I do think it’s kind of in the same ballpark as reading someone’s journal.”

In other words, Googling someone extensively was much more than just asking friends for a little intel. It was akin to calling his mom. Or crouching in the bushes outside his house. With binoculars.

But we don’t just Google romantic interests. We Google new coworkers, friends of friends, owners of businesses we love or hate. We Google the new kindergarten teacher who will be instructing our kids. We Google our future in-laws. Is all that still creepy? Or does it fall under the category of plain good sense, like reading the list of artificial ingredients before buying the box of macaroni and cheese?

My friend wisely pointed out that the ingredients of a person are not so easily pegged. “You can find things you don’t have the back story on, meaning there is loads of room for misinterpretation, and your imagination going wild…. To form an opinion on that person based on your ’knowledge’ — and that’s assuming that everything on the internet is fact, a dangerous assumption — is really unfair and does you both a disservice.”

Many things require extensive research and planning. Going to the moon? Rewiring the electricity in your house? Stepping into the Octagon? By all means, Google at will, learn everything you can. But human connection is different. It can’t be forced or rushed; information is proffered in time with the growing intimacy. It is earned. Accessing the information on someone all at once interferes with the health of the dynamic, not to mention that it ruins the inherent magic. “I like to learn things about (people) through experience,” my friend said. I had to agree. Maybe I wouldn’t Google new acquaintances anymore. Maybe I would let the process unfold organically.

But, um, just in case, how does he spell his full name?

Dell Inc.
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