Personal (Search) History

Illustration by Erik Carter

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One afternoon, riding the bus in downtown Montreal, Madelyne Beckles swiped open her phone to browse the web. She caught sight of her most recent mobile searches — ‘‘Snooki diet,’’ ‘‘Miley Cyrus’ sex tape,’’ ‘‘Bruno Mars songs’’ — and found this collection to be absurd but unexpectedly poignant: an unvarnished glimpse into the meanderings of her mind. Beckles, a 23-year-old visual artist whose work explores her relationship to technology, took a screen grab and shared the image on Instagram. This became the genesis of her newest project, called Herstory: Every so often, Beckles pulls up her mobile search history and saves it with a screen shot.

Beckles says she likes how this public display of her innermost thoughts, represented by her search terms, conveys an uncomfortable truth: that we are rarely as sophisticated and erudite as the versions of ourselves we publish online. ‘‘It is what I have actually searched, and it is how my mind works,’’ she said. She described viewing the images as ‘‘opening an underwear drawer of thoughts.’’


Six Things Google Remembers About My Parenting That I’d Almost Forgotten

Illustration by Abigail Gray Swartz

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Google remembers. Over those six years (and even before they fully began) Google was my parenting manual and my “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” That means that if I want to know what I was worried about in those first weeks, months and years, I have only to open my search history. Thus, the Internet version of “This Is Your Life:”

Searches about eating, peeing and pooping dominated in the first year or two of my children’s lives: “what’s in formula”; “toddler is picky eater”; “can a pull-up hold poop”; “potty training in three days” (Ha!)…

Sleep was also a major issue…

Some things never change. Our challenges with picky eating have continued, leading to a (fruitless) search for “children’s multivitamins only cherry.” Sleep issues also persist, albeit in more sophisticated forms. A search for “night fears” was somewhat addressed by a related one for “Dora night light.” Perhaps the most persistent problem is my children’s general, er, demeanor. On a particularly bad day recently, I asked Google: “Why are my kids so annoying?”

Predicting the Present

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I recently asked a group of Googlers which day of the week had the most Google searches for the word ‘hangover.’ Most of them chose Sunday or Monday, although one party animal opted for Tuesday.

We can find the definitive answer – Sunday – by using a nifty tool called Google Insights for Search. This tool can be used to examine individual queries, but it can also compare search volumes for different queries. For example, searches for ‘vodka’ peak every Saturday, one day before the ‘hangover’ peak. The exception to this regular weekly pattern occurs once a year, on New Year’s Eve.

Searchblog’s John Battelle has called Google ‘the database of intentions,’ because search queries provide insights into people’s interests, intentions, and future actions.

Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”

As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there’s a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a “filter bubble” and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. Eli Pariser argues powerfully that this will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy.

We Search More On Apps, Less On Google Now

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Basically, we’re on our smartphones a lot more when looking things up than we are on our desktops. And we’re fragmented in the way we search now as well. Google is all search for everything but can’t necessarily tell us in a click the best restaurant or what the price is on a coveted item. We use niche travel apps such as Kayak to look up travel info, Trulia to search for homes and local business search company Yelp to look up local businesses.

Search Party

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Enter Query, which taps into the ample comic potential of the process, rendering it, perhaps inevitably, as an old-fashioned board game. Players try to identify which questions come from a search engine’s autocomplete function. The game, which made its début earlier this summer…