Why Social Search Is Rotting Our Brain

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One of the things that I both loved and hated about the early days of search was that you would inadvertently stumble on to things you didn’t intend to find.

The results were sketchy sometimes and even humorous other times, but you would quite often learn something new quite by accident.

Today, with the reliance and dependability of search, we pretty much get exactly what Google thinks we are looking for – and I think that’s a problem.

The ramping of this idea of “social search” or giving us results based on where we’ve been before, where we are now, who we know and what our friends have +1’d is leading us further down the path where no real learning or discovery is even possible. (And this is not just if you click the social search icon, you can’t turn some elements of this off anymore.)

This idea doesn’t end with search either, it’s in news feeds and personalized results from places like Facebook as well.

The digital and social world has created an entire generation addicted to top 10 highlights, featured news snacks and stuff your friends have pinned.

Look, I know I’m as immersed in this world as any, but I think we’ve gone so far that it’s time to come back a bit – how about a search engine of that would take me to places I’ve never discovered?

I read a USAToday article recently (the original snack publication) that said colleges were concerned with the fact that attendance at college basketball games was down sharply. That seems odd given all the March Madness hype, media coverage and total fascination with being in the game no matter how much the tickets cost.

When the journalist writing the story dug into the statistics he found that most of retreat in attendance was from students enrolled in the colleges, even though in some cases student fees covered their tickets. When asked, many of college students admitted they found the highlights, tweets and video coverage a much better way to consume the content – which makes me wonder if we could just condense everything to highlights and not really ever play the real game or write the real book.

What personalized search is doing is giving people what they want and it’s turning the web, our link to entire planet of ideas and thought, into a tool that ensures we will never receive another original thought again. Into a tool that forces bite sized popular ideas onto our plate. And, into a tool that makes certain that only what our so-called friends purchase, do and say is relevant.

I talked to a researcher recently that said he was studying a group of 20 somethings and one of the questions was to identify how much time they spent online. He had to change the question because they didn’t know what he meant. Their online time was so omnipresent that they could no longer make a distinction between being online and not.

This is not going away and my guess is it will become even more pervasive, because, hey, that’s what we want, right?

Google and Facebook and every other tool that provides information doesn’t really care that you can’t see this going on and to me that’s the scary part. You’re no longer in charge of what you discover unless you take charge.

To me the new master skill is undiscovery of what you already know and this is quickly turning into something you’ll have to intentionally practice as we live our lives more and more fully online.


Social search

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