Sunday, 2 October 2011

In which I'll just Thwazock that

Last week, Google turned 13. It's a strange thought, that the Grandaddy of the internet, that bottomless source of wisdom and answers, is actually nothing more than a fledgling teenager. It will soon, we can only assume, start sprouting blackheads, drinking White Lightning behind a hedge and mooning over the boy down the road in poetry written in the back of our exercise books (who would this boy be? Yahoo? Surely not Jeeves?).

But as all parents force themselves to believe during the door-slamming, sebum-secreting phase, we wouldn't be without them for the world. God bless Google. God bless it for many reasons, but mainly for taking a truly ridiculous word and making it a verb that we all use daily. Imagine if that word had been 'splobble' or 'thwazock'. "Hang on, I'll just Thwazock that." Bonkers.

But the question this milestone really prompts is of course, what did we do before Google? I've come up with some theories:

1. Knew stuff

There's certainly room for an argument that we knew less before Google, not more. It may well be true. I didn't know all the states of the USA or how to properly truss a chicken before Google, though to be fair I was 10 and as such poorly informed in general. But there must be many other things that, before we could search them afresh every time we went on a computer, we just remembered instead. Things like how the Keeping Up Appearances theme tune went, or where Cheshire is. How to spell recommend. Your own postcode. Faced with one of these tricky questions in contemporary times, rather than setting cerebral cogs whirring, it is natural for one's fingers to start itching for a keyboard.

2. Encarta

When the Bravo family first got a computer, it came with one CD Rom. That CD Rom was Encarta. It wasn't the complete version, mind you, just a free limited trial version that probably caused significant gaps in my knowledge every time a search stopped short of the paid-for section. But still, I loved it. It was the source of endless, completely uncensored information, and also my main source of entertainment on the computer after I'd got bored of minesweeper and used up our printer ink on pictures of dolphins for my bedroom wall.

3. Teletext

If you were born after 1994 you may skip this section - it doesn't concern you. For everyone older, the word invokes both a rush of joy and some involuntary finger cramp, in memory of all those hours flicking though pages of yellow text to find out what the weather was going to be, or how much we could get a package deal to Lanzarote for. Teletext taught us patience. It taught us that knowledge is always out there, but sometimes you have to work hard to find it. And it doesn't always load properly, so sometimes you have to translate it from jagged half-words that look like Space Invaders. But once you have that knowledge, oh boy did you appreciate it.

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