The Internet Can’t Solve All Your Problems
Why we expect Google to find equally effective answers to ‘how to fix a broken sink’ and ‘how to fix a broken marriage’
Is there anything so satisfying as the moment when you Google some bizarrely specific question — one you believe to be so esoteric only a handful of other mortals have ever needed the answer — only to see the question immediately answered on the first page of results?
I love it. In moments, I can find out how to replace the air filter on my 2013 Toyota Camry. I can learn about the weird bugs on my tomatoes — and how to get rid of them. I can figure out a substitute for a missing ingredient in this evening’s dinner. This is all objectively fantastic and makes my life easier in so many little ways that it’s difficult to completely wrap my head around all the benefits.
It’s also primed me to expect a certain simplicity and ease to the answers that blink into life on my laptop when I tap the ‘enter’ key.
As a technology for disseminating information, the internet has a bias toward the quick, the direct, and the easily digestible. And when you want to know which pair of headphones offers a better value, this is a pretty great bias to make use of.
However, when your question defies a simple answer, often because it involves a personal problem that does not fold itself neatly into a complicated but eventually solvable puzzle, that bias toward speed and ease only serves to create additional problems. Sometimes, the answer to your question can’t be found in the Google Answer Box. Sometimes, the question can’t be answered at all.
That’s not to say that no one is trying, though.
In fact, we are awash in content that takes the same problem-solution approach to fixing a garbage disposal and applies it to everything from relationships to parenting advice, often offering the take of an expert in the appropriate field to lend a some authority to the answer and satisfy the reader in as little time as possible.
And this is where the “how-to” train begins to teeter on the tracks. Because there is a marked difference between turning to the first page of Google to find out how to stain your deck and…