There was a time when the Internet was used commercially for just one purpose: pornography. That’s right. We had this World Wide Web – a high-tech marvel developed by some of America’s most brilliant research minds – and the only people making money were in the adult film industry.
We’ve come a long way since then.
Today, you can find and buy just about anything online courtesy of a robust infrastructure that, at least at this point, appears to be infinitely scalable. And the one thing we take for granted, the one thing the Internet would be virtually unusable without, is search.
I’m not just talking about Google and Bing. Search engines are embedded into every major website and application. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to find anything, anybody or any place online. Without search, the Internet would be more or less useless.
Search engines are for the virtual world what internal combustion engines have been for the real world. The only real difference between the two is that search engines allow you to find things without physically going anywhere.
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And yet, search technology is still in its infancy. As it stands today, it’s essentially a set of algorithms for ranking results that meet certain criteria. It’s not very intelligent, intuitive or interactive. And it’s just beginning to develop the capability to interact on a rudimentary human level.
Nevertheless, there will come a time when a verbal question, a complex query, or even a thought, will be all it takes, not just to find what you’re looking for, but to deliver it in a form that you can easily and immediately use. There will come a time when everything the world has to offer will be readily available, just for the asking.
Even then, no matter how sophisticated technology becomes, there are things that you will never, ever find with a search engine – or any other engine, for that matter. But I’m pretty sure that won’t stop people from trying.
Exhaustion. You will never find the kind of physical exhaustion and exhilaration that comes from running a half-marathon, hiking a long and beautiful trail to a mountain peak, winning a full-court basketball game, or dropping a 70-foot oak tree and chopping it into firewood. While race car drivers and online gamers do experience rushes of adrenaline and perhaps a neurotransmitter or two, it’s just not the same.
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Inspiration. You will never find life-changing inspiration. I’ve had a handful of experiences that were so powerful they changed my life. The conditions for that to occur appear to be a deep emotional connection when a message really speaks to you in a time of need. While the source can be a book, a play, an event, or a person, I seriously doubt if anything you tweet can deliver that kind of punch.
Love. I’m not trying to be cute here. I’m just saying, you will never find true love that way. Yes, you can meet someone you might someday come to love, but that’s no different than meeting people in a bar or at a social event. Sure, there are all kinds of love, but real human connections – physical and emotional – are different. They just are.
Yourself. Sadly, the self-help genre has expanded well beyond Barnes and Noble. You can now add thousands of bloggers to the list of people who claim to be able to help you find happiness, success, your passion, your inner power, your cheese, whatever. Truth is, you can only find those things through personal experience … and taking a good hard look in the mirror.
Life. Near as I can tell, William Shatner first said, “Get a life” in a 1986 SNL skit spoofing a Star Trek convention. Not only is it far more insightful and powerful than people give it credit for, the phrase definitely takes on new meaning in our social-media and gadget-crazed culture. Living your life online is not living. It’s just another addiction to distract you from what really matters in your real life.
The simple truth is that people are not just sophisticated computers and life on planet Earth is not just an ecosystem. No matter how much the virtual world comes to resemble the real one, it can never be the same. There are some uniquely human experiences that will always be impossible to duplicate. And that’s as it should be.
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