If you're not in Google, you're probably dead
A few weeks ago, I believe, a coworker and I were talking about Google, in particular, how he happens to search for people, he once knew, online. Of course, I don't think I know anyone who hasn't at least done this once (even if that individual they searched for happened to be themselves).
The question is, is it true that, if someone can't find a record of you online, that you're dead? After all, isn't it true that an obituary might be available online?
Seriously, in today's world this question actually suggests quite a bit about the world in which we live in. To some extent, the Internet has become an essential aspect of the world, in that many are turning to it for answers, or revelations, about the world.
In fact, many things are actually turning up on the Internet before they show up offline, which suggests that the Internet can, at times, trump the rest of reality (for the Internet too is a reality itself).
Of course, there's also things which only show up on the Internet. This very article, for example, will probably never be read offline. This is why we must accept the Internet as a kind of reality, albeit one that is, in itself, intangible, to some extent.
This is also why we cannot say that there is a one-to-one relationship between the Internet and the rest of the world. Not only is it possible for there to be things on the Internet that are not available elsewhere, but vice versa.
This, as we can see, brings us back to the original question, of whether not being on Google means that the thing does not exist.
First, we have to clarify that when we say Google, we really mean 'not seen on a basic search, such as by a provider like Google.'
To some extent, not even Google knows everything that's available on the Internet, since Google can only see so many things, which is also the case with most other, publicly available, search engines. This means, of course, that even if we were to search across every public search engine, we still may not be able to find information contained within private sites, or even those sites which may just happen to have not been found.
For example, if there's no link to a page, and never has been, then the page probably won't be indexed.
Now, if we could search across every page on the Internet, whether it was public, private, or just not linked to (for example, if we could access each server directly and search on it, with no restrictions) we'd have a deal more information at our disposal. But would it be enough?
If we were to accept that not everything is available on the Internet, then clearly we would not. So, we seem to have already reached the conclusion that, even if we don't find something on the Internet, it tells us only that we were unable to find what we were looking for. It does not tell us whether that information is really unavailable.
At this point we've determined that just because you can't be found on Google, or any other search engine, doesn't mean that you're dead, it just means that you either that there is no information on the Internet about you, or that that information is not available via search.
But that doesn't mean that this question has no importance. As we mentioned earlier, it sheds some light on the world in which we live in.
First, there's the assumption that the Internet does contain real information. While this is often the case, it's incorrect to thereby assume that there is a one-to-one relationship, as we've already discussed.
Second, there's the assumption that everyone is on the Internet, whether directly or indirectly. For example, while someone may be dead, it's possible that someone else, who knows that person, may have, at one time or another, mentioned that person.
To some extent, this raises another interesting point, namely, that if you're not found on the Internet, but do have access to the Internet, something appears to be rather fishy. Id est, one has to wonder about someone who accesses the Internet, but is unsearchable. Is that person trying to keep themselves out of search? If so, to what purpose? Or, are they simply not going to the right places, and not leaving the correct tracks?
Third, there's the assumption that, once something is on the Internet, it stays on the Internet. However, that's unfortunately not the case. While it's true that systems are in place to cache, or store, data, as means of an archive, as we've pointed out before, not all information is accessible, due to it being either privately available, or not publicly linked.
So, until all information is available on the Internet, and that same information is available to anyone, we must realize that, just because we cannot find someone via a search does not necessarily mean that that individual is not on the Internet, or that the person is deceased. Rather, we must remember that the Internet is not the entire world ... yet.
Update July 31, 2007
The nameless coworker mentioned above was actually Dan Conderman. You can find Episode 2 in the archives of the HockShow PodShow, where Matt and Dan discuss this and much more. Episode 1 seems to be sadly missing, however, but Episode 3 is now available.
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