Tuesday, 13 November 2012

How Google Revolutionized Our Search for Knowledge and Answers

Two years ago I left my family and friends and the warm comfort zone they represented to relocate to Canada. I had already been living on my own for 10 years, but my knowledge about specific matters was pretty much non-existent. The main reason how I decently spent this decade is because I was always helped in some way. So other than the few recipes and laundry tips I received through e-mails and Skype from my caring parents during the early days of the move, everything I learned throughout those last two years I owe to the Internet, and Google in particular. And I feel pretty grateful about it.

From an endless variety of food recipes to specific publications and sources, from directions, addresses, movie and book reviews, to etymologies, researching space and nature documentaries; from how to heal a burned thumb and my dog’s ear infection and why does she sometimes like to roll in dead birds, to how to print business cards at home, what a non-stick pan looks like, and to 1960s rare movies only found on YouTube. Also why is the sky blue. Everything is there!

Searches are linked to photos and videos, and the beauty of it all is that most content is easily shared with a simple copy/paste. What else could anyone need to learn? And how has it always been enough with a few dozen volumes of printed encyclopedias?

Even though the Internet was up and running by the late 90s but the dial up connection and browsing with a Netscape 1.0 weren’t quite the walk in the park. As a university student, I still had to look through card catalogs, praying that the books I was searching for weren’t checked out. We were allowed a specific number of books to take home and if a new question, inquiry, or idea ever arises, we would either have to drive back to the library and pray again, or just drop any novelty and restrict ourselves to our allowance and deal with it.

It wasn’t the hardest of things and I did graduate with a BA and double minor with minimal online help.  Compared to today’s standard, however, what we were exposed to was so limited, almost in a ridiculous way. I’m sure that in 20 years – if not much earlier – they’ll look back at us to reminisce and laugh at our laptops and internet connections, and most probably at other aspects of our life too. By looking at the pace at which information and technology is advancing, I’m actually quite positive that this will be happening much sooner than we think.

Maybe the new generations might not truly appreciate this advancement as much as we do or they are not too grateful about how life has become today since they grew up “with” the Internet. But I’m sure they will get the picture if they just imagined how it was like only 15 years ago. The answers to our everyday questions, not all of them too, had to be dug out off a finite number of books. Yet, many discoveries were made during this pre-Internet era, which makes me positive that much more will take place now that we are all so seamlessly connected.

Being the Philomath that I am, I’ve always been questioning everything. And with the answers Google never fails to provide me, it seems that it became my loyal and reliable friend who almost never lets me down. I think I’m in love.

Our existence is witnessing a technological revolution that will be marked in history as a major shift in paradigms. Educating ourselves and learning from each other by communicating and sharing the knowledge has never been more accessible or convenient. And surfing the Internet has become the ultimate tool to facilitates our lives while feeding our intellectual growth. With photos and videos, it also allowed us to travel the world from the comfort of our own homes which may very well inspire us to explore it for real.

Although it’s impossible to accurately quantify, but according to a research by scientists at the University of Southern California, it is estimated that humanity has stored from 500 to 600 Exabyte of data from 1986 until now (1 Exabyte is a little more than 1 million Terabytes). If we put all the information from one Exabyte into DVD format, it would take around 50,000 years to get through it. Based on this calculation, everything that has ever existed online from photos, e-mails, e-books, programs, articles and videos of YouTube – which was acquired by Google in 2006 – could take a mind-boggling continuous 30,000,000 years to view.

Equally interesting, the weight of the internet, or all the electrons in motions needed to make it work, is a tiny 50 grams; the weight of a strawberry.

Google alone processes about 24 Petabytes of data per day (1 Petabyte equals 1024 terabytes). All of these gigantic figures are expected to double within the next five years, and the world’s technological information-processing capacities will just keep growing at exponential rates, synchronizing with our ever-expanding universe. Today, at least 1 billion people use the web every week as part of their lives as more countries outside of North America are going online, and there is no sign of or reason for stopping this substantial growth rate in any foreseeable future.

The numbers get us dizzy just by thinking about them, and the amount of information we’re trying to imagine here is enormous. Of course as content, not everything is true or real, but after some time the average user is able to distinct between the real and the hocus pocus, usually by tracing the source and by looking at how common is its online visibility. The internet has made facts checking so simple today that there is no excuse for being uninformed or misinformed. The same with researching images and checking their authenticity as I recently found out when I started a photojournalism page on Facebook. Coupled with the nasty habit of the always-developing Photoshop and the speed and ease of the social media sharing, the gullibility of some people made it necessary to have Google Images and websites such as Snopes.com. Now it’s been made very simple for any skeptic to check shared photos or facts. Whenever in doubt or confusion about whatever it is, the easiest thing to do is to just “Google it.” It literally takes seconds.

Knowledge is indeed power. So let us embrace the change and welcome it by taking advantage of all this virtual information to help us educate ourselves and better understand our world and the universe we live in. We will also better explore our future and be prepared for it with open minds if we are better communicators. And maybe our descendants would laugh a little less.

I’m not sourcing various research scientific studies or any documentaries here like I usually do. I just wanted to share with you my fascination with how a research project started by two Stanford student in March 1996 has become so huge and handy as Google.

Also, how it helped me and others in increasing our knowledge in a multitude of fields just by clicking a few buttons, while facilitating our lives and making them more interesting. With no more trips to the library, card catalogs or limits, education has become simpler yet smarter and very convenient. Technology is now allowing us to stay connected with each other as we better integrate with our future’s artificial intelligence. So be ready and be fascinated because Google has truly revolutionized our search for the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything — and the number 42.

“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers”
— Carl Sagan

Article published on Conscious Life News
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