The number one priority of Google is keeping your attention on Google. This is not a controversial position, it’s not a conspiracy theory. The priority of the systems that relate to that create an intention towards things like a search engine, or gmail or whatever, are all just functions in the name of keeping your attention on Google. They want you looking at them so they can make sure your attention is where they can monetise it, through advertisers.
This command of attention is prime: even just being a trustworthy source of search information is secondary to the command of attention in the name of making money. I’ve talked about the form advertising takes, in that its job is not to sell you products, but to sell advertising to the people who buy advertising, and anything you do is incidental to that goal. This drive towards the retention of attention and serving the needs of advertisers is so all-consuming that Google literally does not care if people paying for their services use them for exploitative harm, like how in 2022, an advertiser made a malware fake version of widespread software package OBS. Google would happily put this above searches for OBS proper, because they paid for it.
Simply put: Google’s not great.
Neither is Twitter, a service I’ve been using pretty much constantly for nine years. In June, I’ll get a notification about my ten years on the site, even though based on the way the API is behaving, the last post I made to it was February 22, and that was something a blog software was handling. It was, for the latter part of its presence in my life, doing a very bad job of what I wanted it to do. What I wanted Twitter to do was give me an audience who I could direct to things I thought were cool; instead, it mostly became about screaming, and demanding why you weren’t also screaming.
I’ve stopped using them, sort of. I still use gmail addresses, because I’ve been using them for over a decade now, but I don’t use gmail’s web interface (and never really have). I’ve stopped opening twitter, and I don’t post on twitter. I eased out of twitter by checking it, occasionally, you know, seeing what my friends were tweeting about, see if I needed to check in on them. Then a bit more, a bit further along and what I saw people tweeting about was mostly about how bad twitter was, or how much This Guy Over Here Sucks.
It made it easier to stop paying attention.
The result of this is that the internet I’ve been using, mostly, is now the internet of things that replace those typical functions. Mastodon is part of it, and so is Cohost, smaller, more indie services. Particularly, one of the things that I have to deal with is a non-google search engine. This time, I’m using DuckDuckGo — which is really quite good!
And that’s the thing. Not going to pretend I’m not giving up a powerful search engine like this. If I want to, for example, reverse image search an artist? The Duckduckgo RIS isn’t as strong as the google one. It’s a bit clueless. It’s a bit confused about some things, and I think it doesn’t do a good job of telling famous people from random nobodies. If you search for names, it tends to look for a bunch of related names, as well, because – well, almost any given site with names on it has lots of names on it. It can be a bit weak in that regard.
And that means that my searches are a little slower. I don’t just get a first page of ‘probably what I want.’ I get a first page, where there’s a lot of ambiguity, but that ambiguity tends to feel reasonable. So let’s say for example I search up a short acronym, like, let’s say, BUD. Google has a history for me that figures I probably mean a Block Update Detector, and I’m looking into the history of Etho’s Lab, a youtuber I’ve followed for (goodness me) like twelve years. DuckDuckGo won’t prioritise that, so it’ll show me hey, that could mean this, or that, or the other, please be more specific if you want more specific results.
And that means that searches are much less immediate, but they’re also a little more thoughtful. Browse the first page, learn oh, right, I need to narrow this by putting in another term. Or I need to make sure it knows these two terms are linked, and it means that searches are a little more thoughtful.
It gets me thinking about the processes I get through on a daily basis. When do I need to do a dozen searches? When do I need to do things as quick as possible? Sometimes in class, sure (and now I think about it, it’s going to be funny if my students see me type in a search on DuckDuckGo, in the way of seeing a teacher with an off-brand soft drink or something), but largely, this pause, this care, means that when I’m searching the internet for something, I’m more likely to take a moment and be careful about what I’m hoping to see, rather than blurting a demand, then refining it.
It means I do fewer searches to get where I’m going, if I’m being thoughtful. If I’m taking my time.
It got me thinking about a simpler time of the internet, where you’d have a small grouping of tools for specific tasks. You didn’t have a big internet tube for getting movies and music and books, you’d have a single program you ran for music, and maybe an IRC channel of swapped information for anime, and another place for movies. It’s not like I’m saying convenience is bad, but it’s got me thinking about the ways that it’s okay to slow down, and be more deliberate.
Spend some time sorting your files, check your bookmarks. Get an RSS feed, and use it, go check things out in these divided ways. And do it because these divided up chunks of ways, the time between things, the time that slows me down, is stuff that reduces the tension. It makes me think more between things.
I’ve been thinking about what coziness feels like in the context of a digital space. What it means to try and replicate a pre-digital, disconnected but communally related space, in a digital connected space. And I think part of what gets me a little way there, is taking the time between things. Be willing to take a moment, be willing to breathe, be willing to care, and weirdly, part of that is about using a less convenient form of a thing.