Eric Schmidt's Rat Race Of Search

  • by , Featured Contributor, September 28, 2010
At the IFA conference in Berlin a couple weeks ago, Google's Eric Schmidt described a utopian vision of the future, one in which we are relieved from all that pesky, burdensome searching so we can focus on what's really important. As Chloe Albanesius reported in PCMag:

"When someone asks 'what's the weather like' - what you're really asking is 'should I wear a raincoat' or 'should I water the plants?'" Schmidt said. "We think we can get closer" to the information for which a user is really searching.

Schmidt referred to this as "augmented humanity" - or a time when "computers will work for us and they'll make it possible for us to do the things we really want to do."

Those last 13 words are the ones that caught my attention. So that's what's been holding me back! I've been wasting all my time searching. If only Google would tell me whether I should water the plants, I'd finally be able to give my husband and my cat the attention they deserve.



The comment reminded me of a story, narrated by a rat, from the classic children's book "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH":

It was about a woman in a small town who bought a vacuum cleaner. Her name was Mrs. Jones, and up until then she, like all her neighbors, had kept her house spotlessly clean by using a broom and a mop. But the vacuum cleaner did it faster and better, and soon Mrs. Jones was the envy of all the other housewives in town -- so they bought vacuum cleaners, too.

The vacuum cleaner business was so brisk, in fact, that the company that made them opened a branch factory in town. The factory used a lot of electricity, of course, and so did the women with their vacuum cleaners, so the local electric power company had to put up a big new plant to keep them all running. In its furnaces the power plant burned coal, and out of its chimneys black smoke poured day and night, blanketing the town with soot and making all the floors dirtier than ever. Still, by working twice as hard and twice as long the women of the town were able to keep their floors almost as clean as they had been before Mrs. Jones ever bought a vacuum cleaner in the first place.

Albanesius also reported that Schmidt went on to say that with new technology in the pipeline, "users will never forget anything, they will never be lonely or bored."

I am continually grateful to live in 2010, an age in which professional-grade video cameras and international broadcast platforms are readily available to anybody with a story to tell. I love the lack of barriers in our modern world, the fact that if I want to start a radio show or tweet directly with Gary Vaynerchuk or Guy Kawasaki I don't need to ask anyone's permission; I can just do it. Yet of the many privileges and opportunities our modern age affords us, relief from boredom isn't one of them. Quite the contrary. Our shortening attention spans and increasing need for instant gratification mean that we are continuously restless, that any moment lacking electronic stimulation is uninteresting and, well, boring.

In the Mrs. Frisby book, the rat telling the vacuum cleaner story goes on to say, "[T]he reason I had read [the story] so eagerly was that it was called 'The Rat Race' which, I learned, means a race where, no matter how fast you run, you don't get anywhere. But there was nothing in the book about rats, and I felt bad about the title because, I thought, it wasn't a rat race at all, it was a People Race..."

Perhaps, in this instance, it should instead be called a Search Race.

Thoughts? Comments? I look forward to hearing from you, here or via @kcolbin.

5 comments about "Eric Schmidt's Rat Race Of Search".
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  1. Lois Wingerson from CMP Medica, September 28, 2010 at 10:43 a.m.

    What a fabulous commentary. Like you said ...

    I'm a medical search engine content manager, and I'm very fond of search as it is. No computer will ever be able to figure out exactly what's in my head, and it's my job as REAL humanity to work that out for myself.

    How long has it been since I couldn't find what I needed on either Google or SearchMedica? If it can't be located within a minute or two, it probably doesn't exist online anyway.

  2. Siouxsie Jennett from Mambo Media, Inc., September 28, 2010 at 1:22 p.m.

    This is a fantastically thoughtful blog post! I too am concerned that we are on the information treadmill, expending lots of energy, but where are we going? I also fear terms like "augmented humanity". Should we forfeit the one thing that makes us exceptional in the animal kingdom - our humanity? Empathy, perception, perspective? I hope not. And I certainly hope it's not replaced by a Google search!

  3. Tony Nino from PADV Pasadena Advertising, September 28, 2010 at 3:53 p.m.

    Thoughtful, agreed. However... Allow me to quote from "Inherit the Wind," by a distant relative, Robert E. Lee. Drummund, the Northern attorney addresses Matthew Harrison Brady.
    "Progress has never been a bargain. You've got to pay for it. Sometimes I think there's a man behind a counter who says, 'All right, you can have a telephone; but you'll have to give up privacy, the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote; but at a price; you lose the right to retreat behind a powderpuff or a petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air; but the birds will lose their wonder, and the clouds will smell of gasoline!'
    I thought I might have detected a whiff of nostalgia.

  4. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, September 28, 2010 at 6:45 p.m.

    Thanks, guys! And what a great quote, Tony. I don't yearn for days past, that's for sure! But we must never forget the glory of the present moment :-)

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 5, 2010 at 8:38 p.m.

    When decisions are made for you, like what you do when you do how you do, life just gets easier, doesn't it? Very Amishlike, if you like. Or maybe more like controlled by one wholly system. What you think is choice is predetermined by another entity. From little Google fast search to "augmented huminaty", we are just begging to be controlled. Follow the money and you will have a better idea who is cleaning up only if the controller of search allows you to have an idea. Any ideas?

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