Is Google Ruining Your Life? [Guest Post]

This is a guest post from my good friend Tim, who is a regular commenter on this blog and is in the process of launching a Houston-based daily-deal site called YourYoupon.

I am a frequent commenter on Adam’s blog, beyond the blog we’ve become good friends over the last few years and enjoy sharing business stories and other lifestyle/technology concepts we come across.  As the story I’m about to share with you unfolded Adam was the first person I knew I was going to tell and he suggested a guest post for his blog, which leads us to the story.

I was out to dinner with some friends a little over a week ago, two married couples and I.  I won’t say that the two husbands (we’ll call them John and Steve) don’t like each other but they are at odds with each other, in particular with certain topics.  One of these topics is living through search engines, namely Google.  John is a self proclaimed Googleholic he will not do anything, buy anything or go anyplace without Googling it first.  Steve uses Google for researching, for example looking into buying a new cell phone, but doesn’t like it for reviews or let it influence him too much.  He argues, and this is where it gets interesting, that John is no longer capable of thinking for himself, his statements are derived from Google, his opinion is no longer his opinion, it is what he reads from Google.  Additionally, Steve feels that you are depriving yourself of experiencing life through heavy Google usage, a restaurant may have a bad review or two and may be an outstanding place to eat.

This really got me thinking, I am a heavy Google user, in addition to averaging 34.2 Google searches per day(Google tracks this for you, in case you didn’t know) I’m using no less than 21 Google Products on my Google Account Page.  A lot of my searching is because I recently moved over 750 miles from my home town/state and am learning a lot about my new area, Google has made this experience much easier.  I’m not making excuses for my usage but I own two businesses, one of which is a web business and work almost exclusively through my computer/from home, a lot of my searching is for work.  That is not the case for John, he is a blue color worker and that means he’s away from the ability to search for at least 8 hours a day.

The real question is, how much Google searching is too much?  Are we living better quality lives because we don’t need to have an experience to gain the knowledge from others?  This reminds me a book by Barry Schwartz called The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less only with a Google twist.  If we’re not to the point that we are virtually experiencing life, we are approaching it very rapidly – be warned!

Adam here: my thoughts are that this is a REALLY interesting topic. I too have a Google addiction, but I also don’t really want to know everything about everything I’m just about to do.  It’s kind of why I personally don’t like the concept of online dating.  It turns something that is adventurous and curious into a process that’s kind of like buying a car.  At some point you just have to get out there and live.  I also think that, in a way, the wealth of information hinders us from doing things.  In particular, starting a business.  There’s so much info out there that you can get sucked in to thinking you need to do 50 things before you can even consider starting a company, when almost none of that is as important as simply meeting a need that people are willing to pay for.  On a more personal level, I try to use my Googling to my advantage when traveling.  Often times my girlfriend and I will hop in the car and take a day trip to a small town in Massachusetts or Vermont on a whim because we heard it was a cool place, with no more info than the town name to throw into our GPS.  We explore the town and sometimes never need to use the technology available to us.  But by knowing that we have smart phones at our disposal, we don’t have to plan as much.  If we get lost, we use the GPS and/or our phones.  If we can’t find a place to eat, we can Google it.  The same technology that can cripple you can also be used to your advantage, depending on how you approach it.

10 comments on Is Google Ruining Your Life? [Guest Post]

  1. Rob says:

    This is a really interesting topic, thanks for sharing!

    I think there are a few points at work here, and things we’d need to decide. As a birds-eye-view, the most obvious question would be this – has google improved your quality of life? Is using google more a positive thing for you? I think this depends on many factors; whether you are using it in a productive way or not, whether it’s out of boredom and how much faith you place in Google.

    I too think I’m a googleholic, but can’t always work out whether I’m okay with that or not. I too run a couple of web-based businesses, use the webmaster and analytics tools, gmail, docs, search, chrome and probably a few other products too (not wave though!). Were there an objective way to do it, we could measure productivity and happiness BG and AG (Before Google..).

    Are we addicted to technology in general? Are we too reliant on it? Will this current obsession die down once it all becomes old news?

    It’s amazing how much you can get done on a day when the cable is out, but also it can really bring it home how much you use these services.

    In a very topical manner, Google was down last night. All the services. I don’t know whether it was localised or woldwide, but it stopped me using gmail, docs and search (didn’t try anything else). It was slightly distressing, but luckily didn’t affect my productivity because nothing I was doing was mission critical. Along this same thread – perhaps that’s okay? Perhaps we shouldn’t be doing non-mission critical work stuff? Should we buy into Tim Ferris’ hype and the pareto principle and actively avoid these tasks?

    I think technology has taken over a lot of our interactions and there is a risk of it seeping into areas where it’s not needed. When you get to the point that you’re checking email obsessively (but not because you’re waiting for something important) then there’s clearly a problem. To those of you with smartphones – do you think it’s made you more or less of an email junkie? (I purposely have a 3 year old phone that doesn’t have 3G, email or a touchscreen).

    Do you think this obsession with technology will end? Do we think it’s generally a positive or negative thing? Is it possible to be a part of modern society in the western world without it?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Great comment Rob.

      In terms of the smartphone, I exercise restraint. I’ve only used it to check/reply to emails once – when we were having server issues with LockerPulse and I was in correspondence with our hosting company on a day when I was out and about and didn’t have easy computer access. I turned off all of the email alerts in the android email program. I only have it set up for that 1 or 2 times per year where it will make my life significantly easier to be able to use it.

      Great questions.

      Do you think this obsession with technology will end?
      Probably not.

      Do we think it’s generally a positive or negative thing?
      I would say 50/50. It’s such a complex issue, but I’m not sold that we’re any happier than people were 50/100/200 years ago. So long as basic needs are met, there can certainly be an argument that everything else is just cluttering your mind. Not saying the argument can’t be made the other way too.

      Is it possible to be a part of modern society in the western world without it?
      Probably not, which might not be a good thing

  2. Tim says:

    Rob, great post! I think the simple answer is yes, clearly some Google improves your life, but there is a place where too much takes away from it. Thankfully search engine usage has plateau’d and much to Google’s dismay I think we have reached the summit.

    I think information, the ability to find it quickly and manage it efficiently has without a doubt improved everyones life. With my businesses I handle all of the “business” stuff, insuring everything is filed properly, all paperwork for the corporation is in place, that all tax information is filed on time and in the right spot. That job BG(Before Google) was almost exclusively the job of an attorney and it came with steep fees and was always kept mysterious and alien, when the reality is 1-2 hours of research and you can do this all on your own and save yourself thousands and thousands of dollars, while having a much greater understanding of the how’s and why’s.

    An example of missing out would be my favorite Italian Restaurants in upstate NY doing a quick search I see the average review is 3.5 out of 5 star based on the review alone I probably would have never gone there. When it comes to actually experiencing life I try not to let Google influence me too much. It’s not difficult to live the perfect Google life, but how much will you miss out on that you may have really enjoyed, will you ever be able to come up with your own thoughts or will you just regurgitate content you read elsewhere – that’s my biggest fear, losing the ability to think.

    I’m slowly finding a better balance in my life, I currently have the cheapest, most basic cell phone a human can use, but I’m most likely picking up a smart phone in a month, the ability to check email and monitor other activities while out would be comforting. On that same note I’ve been weening myself away from email, in the last month I’ve changed my mail clients preferences from checking for email every 5 minutes to every 15 minutes and now I’m to every 30 minutes. Next week I will select every hour and I’ll see how it works. I can’t remember that last urgent email I received, most often they just disrupt my work flow to show me a sale on patio furniture.

    Technology will undoubtedly continue to evolve and influence our lives, and I think that is great. My concern is that we become so dependent on it that we lose the ability to think for ourselves and we are no longer experiencing life, we are living the life others tell us is the one we should be living. Sounds like a bad Sci-Fi movie!

  3. Oke says:

    Adam, I feel that way so much. There were two incidents that are on different levels of the arguments.

    The first one was a time a couple of months ago my fiance and I were talking about working out. I told her that I’m not going to eat any starches and just do vegetables for the whole week and just workout like crazy. She looked at me and thought I was crazy. She told me I needed to research what I was doing and if it was safe. I blew up in front of her because I told her that is the one way that I learn. I just think of something and try it out and learn from that experience. I saw where she was coming from, but I felt like not even starting because I had to research everything before I actually got started.

    The other incident was with somebody at work. I shouldn’t have even brought it up, but I did. I told her that I want to do photography and writing of some sort. Then she said for me to go back to school to get a MBA. I told her that I self-taught myself and working on my portfolio so that I can market to my ideal client. She still looked at me crazy and left. In this case, technology has helped me get ahead of learning and exploring what I like and don’t.

    So it is a mix bag on technology helping us or hurting us live the life that we don’t even know what is out there.

  4. Dale Ting says:

    In terms of reviews and stuff, I think with the internet you get lots of reviews and can get a great feeling of how great something is from the general public. I think the issue is we’ve gone too far, now we’re getting reviews from every average Joe and some of them just aren’t good (not bad ratings, but just poorly written reviews). I think there really is a space for the “expert” to come back so they have more credibility.

  5. Tim says:

    Dale, bring up a great point at a glance it’s impossible to tell which reviewers and reviews are credible and which are not. With my old business we had TERRIBLE online reviews, after I dug into it a little bit, every review was the same, not just close, I mean EXACTLY the same and this same reviewer left this review for every competing business in our area except for one… doesn’t take a lot of detective work to figure out who was writing those reviews. Thankfully we had already negotiated a deal to sell the business before I noticed this so it wasn’t worth addressing, but Googling your business and seeing a 1 star rating is painful, in particular when it’s not a real review, it’s a competitor trying to get an edge.

    Like I said, it’s not hard to see if a review is BS or not, but how often do you dig deeper beyond the star rating system, in particular if it’s rated poorly?

  6. Rob says:

    That review issue sounds horrible – glad you’d already negotiated the deal.

    Google allows us easy access to a great quantity of data, when what we need is information that has been quality checked. Wikipedia is great for this – somehow, by the magic of people being nice, it generally works. Yeah, there’s vandalism, but because there are so many wiki-holics out there, they fix it quick.

    In terms of search, it’s very easy with google to get completely overwhelmed with data, mis-information and the good stuff can get drowned out by the bad. Without peer-review or similar, how do we tell which information is to be believed and which is not? Do we judge how honest a company is, or how good their food will taste by their web design and PR skills?

    To everyone running a business out there, internet or otherwise – what offline advertising do you do? Do you wonder what the hell businesses did to find customers back in “the olden days”?

    Tim; I’d like to think you’re right about technology obsession having plateaued. I know people that have left facebook, and they’re still alive (I think..). I have friends who’ve gone back to shooting film, not because they’re film photography geeks, but because they felt overwhelmed by digital, and that being more restricted meant they produced better quality work.

    Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether having these products and services available is a positive or negative thing. I think Adam’s spot on when he says that overall happiness probably hasn’t increased in the last few centuries. Does the rise in technology correlate with a rise in productivity? Probably, on the whole. Does the rise in productivity correlate with a fall in working hours? Probably not, we’re just working the same hours and producing more. Does a rise in productivity, but keeping the same hours relate to a rise in happiness?

  7. Adam Holland says:

    When I read the title of the post I could’ve sworn it was going to be a post on the mass of adwords accounts being disabled by google.

    I’ve heard numbers as high as 20,000+. Maybe more.

    Google may have their reasons, but long story short – they hate affiliate marketers. And it looks like with all of the data they’ve accumulated, Google’s going to be the next (and maybe ONLY) ‘super affiliate’. see Matt Trainer’s post here: http://www.themarketingmoron.com/we-are-doomed-part-2/

    One of my buddies was spending $80k per month in adwords. Google disabled his account with no reasoning, no explanation. Even though he pleaded that he has 5 employees whose salaries are paid from the revenue that advertising generates, no response.

    And I just got my first “warning” from google 2 days ago.

    Problem is no matter how pissed I am with Google, I still make close to 80% of my income from SEO and affiliate marketing. But then that kinda makes me wonder how long THAT will last.

    And no matter how much I want to boycott them, I still find myself using them all the time, checking my analytics account, and running split tests with google website optimizer… all of which are free.

    Crap.

    I’m torn,

    Adam Holland

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Holland,

      Now that’s a whole other topic for a whole other day 🙂

      I certainly worry for us, what if one day Google penalizes us in the SERPS and we lose all of our search engine traffic? Some months it can be the majority of our traffic/revenue. Anyone who makes their living online has an unhealthy reliance on Google unfortunately. You just have to do your best to follow their guidelines and play by their rules.

      Adam

  8. […] for me in the warehouse and got me all the graphics I needed quickly. My good friend Tim, who has guest blogged on here before and is a frequent commenter, has been managing our social media presence for both DI […]

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