A keyword search.
Moreover, that particular plot point proves to be a critical thread that persists right through to the end of the book. (It's so central, the people who play the search-geek characters in the movie -- and there's sure to be a movie -- will get real dialogue and a sweet paycheck.)
Now there are plenty of novels (and movies) that involve the shenanigans of cyber criminals and computer geeks, but what was so surprising about this one was how much these characters focused on developing and refining their search queries, and how much the strategies for digging ever deeper for information were critical to the overall plot.
Reading the book felt a little like one of the many, many meetings I've sat in at work. You know the ones, where you're thinking, the keyword list seems to have run its course; there's gotta be a green pasture we're missing; the data must contain something we can exploit.
MediaPost's Laurie Sullivan wrote a story last week that looked at how Google might use its increased access to the Twitter feed of constantly updating tweets through its new Google Social Search. I loved the headline: "Search Engines Move Into A Zen Moment." Overshadowed by announcements earlier in the week that Microsoft's Bing will now feature status updates from both Twitter and Facebook, Google was anxious to make its own splash.
But what really got me was the first line of the story: Being 'in the moment' could possibly emerge as a Zen marketing and advertising strategy as search engines move toward pulling in real-time status updates from Twitter and other social network sites."
As a lifelong San Francisco Bay Area resident, I can tell you that "being in the moment" is taught from kindergarten on, and represents something of a religion in these parts. So, not such a new idea. But as it relates to search, the concept is intriguing: as more and more people provide updates about anything and everything, we might get to a globally shared "momentness."
As it is, huge numbers of people use Google, and to a much lesser extent other search engines, as the start page in their online lives. Up until now, our "starts" have been about finding things or information or whatever. But with the introduction of status updates to search, an increasingly shared momentness means we can use our "starts" to tap into what people are feeling, experiencing, seeing or doing -- right now, in this moment.
Which brings me back to that new Dan Brown book. It's one thing to find the idea of deep-thinking search geeks unearthing potentially earth-shattering information as grave as the centrality of humanity in a new novel (you have to read the book), but it's another when anyone -- from politicians to pollsters to marketers to my Aunt Phyllis -- can go online and tap into a common, communal oneness at any given moment in time. All with just a few keywords.
Increasingly, society is accepting search as somehow central to our lives, to our shared human experience. Now that generations of people are growing up with search as a natural part of their daily living, the queries are not only frequent, they're both sophisticated and casual, urgent and frivolous. "Search" is fully integrated into our language, our behaviors, the everyday devices we rely on to navigate through life -- and, yes, our culture.
Add to that the increasing comfort with which we use status updates to, in effect, chronicle all the large and small things that come to define a life -- and you've got a bona fide Age of Aquarius!
Global momentness. Universal oneness. All brought to you by Google and Microsoft. Search that.
As we're wont to say in California, that's some heavy stuff, man.