Google saved my life so many times last month, as I trudged through Europe alone. Without Maps, I would never have made it to my meetings, train connections, flights, meals, or anything. Google sent alerts to remind me when to leave; it translated my questions, so I could bleat them in a pathetic form of German to ask for help. I would never have made it if Google hadn’t been there for me. I owe it so much.
This makes me extremely uncomfortable.
We don’t have an Alexa device or a Google device, and I almost never use Siri for anything other than dictating reminders. I don’t like machines knowing what I want or what I think. But they really do, from the Amazon algorithms that recommend new shoes to the autocomplete function on my phone.
Beyond my itinerary, what else do the machines know? How much can they suss out from my searches? Can you paint a picture of a life based on Google history? I sifted through the open tabs on my phone’s browser and realized you can. Reading the tabs together, in groups, is like a form of found poetry.
My last six months, in AI-assisted verse:
Your 20-Minute De-Stress Workout | My Fitness Pal
Legacy.com Obituary | Sign Guestbook
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross | Wikipedia
5 Empowering Ways to Get Your Kids to Listen | The New York Times
Motherhood in the Age of Fear | The New York Times
(Tabs redacted for personal reasons)
“This Is the Life,” by Annie Dillard
The Silent Killer: Hemangiosarcoma | Pet Helpful
About Hemangiosarcoma | Robinsonvet.com
Mourning the Loss of Your Dog | The Spruce Pets
Dealing With the Guilt | The Rainbow Bridge
Kennelwood Pet Resorts
My dog died in January, very suddenly.
How To Build Muscle in 9 Minutes | NYT Well Guides
Hourly Weather Forecast for St. Louis, MO
Landscape Depression Studies
Art Print: Ground Control to Major Tom (followed by several more tabs of paintings made by my cousin, a Catholic priest)
Basic German Phrases | Fodor’s Travel
Budweiser Budvar Brewery | Wikipedia
Deutsche Bahn | bahn.com
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz | Wikipedia
The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz | Amazon.de
DW News and Current Affairs
“Don’t Succumb to the Fear”: Women Share Travel Safety Tips | NYT
I had tabs open for every hotel I stayed in, too.
Avene Thermal Water
London Tube Map
British Museum – Friday Lates
Things to Do in Edinburgh | TripAdvisor
Marks & Spencer Percy Pigs
I found the Percy Pigs and brought home three bags.
Shopping Cart | West Elm
Productivity Isn’t About Time Management. It’s About Attention Management. | NYT
Why The ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Finale Works So Well | The Atlantic
Some attention management, past me
How to Write A Book in Ten Days | Literary Hub
There are themes in here, for sure, but I think only a human with empathy and emotional processing capacity can derive any meaning from them. An algorithm may sense a connection between tabs that mention canine cancer and those that talk about grief, but it can’t talk to me about what that feels like. It might know I was trying to navigate through Germany, or that I was interested in 18th century Prussian philosophers, but it could not tell me the best place to find a flea market on a Sunday in Berlin.
Google might know what I’m up to, or what I’m thinking, at least some of the time, but it is not my friend. It may have saved my life last month, but it can’t know my life. That part is for people. I owe them so much more.