Today I’ve been working on a new book called YOU SUCK: A Love story. It’s the sequel to my 1995 vampire story, Bloodsucking Fiends: A love Story. Since my first book, which I wrote back in 1990, all of my books have been written on computer, and therefore, over the years I’ve gotten used to having certain advantages to electronic text — one of them being searchability. So when I’m editing one of my books, I’ll wonder, “did I already use that line?” or “what the hell was that character’s last name” and a text search instantly tells me. This is also an invaluable research tool — for instance, when I was writing Lamb, and had to keep track of where everyone was in the King James’ Gospels, I had an e-text of the Bible, which I would run searches on. Likewise, if I want to look up some phrase in Shakespeare, I can search his complete works in about three seconds.
So, today, I was looking up something in Bloodsucking Fiends to make sure that I consistent with this new book. And my electronic text for Fiends is so old that it doesn’t even read on modern computers, so I couldn’t use my old files. (In those days, the computer I was using couldn’t handle a text file the size of an entire novel. You had to write each chapter as a file, then chain them together to print them. It’s been a long ten years.) I ended up looking through a copy of the book for about a half an hour. Later I was looking up a quote on Google — the one about love being the triumph of hope over reality or something like that, and Google offered me “book search”. Suddenly I was presented with the option to search about fifty specific books where those words appeared in context. I clicked on one, and ended up viewing a page of Jane Goodall’s biography.
So I’m wondering. And I enter the name of the character I’d been searching for earlier, which was Elijah Ben Sapir, the old vampire from Fiends, and “kazam!: Up pops page 225 of Bloodsucking Fiends, –the name in context, the entire passage I had been looking for. Google had stuff that I, the author, didn’t even have.
So I run the word “fucktard” through Google Book Search, and back comes The Stupidest Angel, which appears to be the only book that’s ever used that word.
I don’t know how I feel about this. I mean, I’m not excited about hackers being able to write software so that people can download my books for free, because as much as I’d like everyone to be able to read my work, I’m sort of attached to the habits of eating and having shelter and not having to do real work for a living.
But in addition to that, I’m sort of freaked that this happened already. I mean, I remember in sixth grade, in your Weekly Reader, they’d say things like, in the future cars will look like this… And like twenty years later, out comes the Ford Probe, which was the car they showed. Now, they say, Google will someday be able to index — whoops, never mind, it’s already happened.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Google, I use the Google, constantly, but consequently, I can’t remember shit. Why should I? All I have to do is type a request into Google. I’m tempted to type in “where the hell did I put my phillips head screwdriver” except I’m afraid that Google would come back with, “it’s out in the garden shed, behind the wheelbarrow” – then I’d be offered links where I could buy a new wheelbarrow, a new tool shed, a new screwdriver, or subscribe to Phillips Head Monthly. The Google is starting to scare me a little.
I got the Desktop tool from Google, which will search your whole computer for stuff and come back with any file, in nearly any format, that uses nearly any combination of words, suffixes, etc. And this is the beta tool. Right next to it, are the links on the same subject returned from the web, and it will also find the links to anything that I’ve looked at on the web for the last couple of weeks. So if someone on the message board wrote a compelling post about cranberries ten days ago, I can enter “cranberries” and back it will come, along with links that will connect me to sites where I can buy, sell, or date cranberries. It’s disconcerting. I mean, they say that people can’t see in my computer — that this is sort of a one-way mirror, but how long? How long before Google goes:
“Hey, Kellogg’s, Chris Moore woke up this morning thinking about chocolate corn flakes, this would probably be a good time to send a guy over to his house with a cereal of the day subscription book.”
“Hey, General Motors, we’ve just scanned the brains of all the males in America and it turns out they’d like a monster truck that will blow them as they drive. And they’d like it in black.”
Sure, you laugh now, but they had to get the name Hummer from some kind of consumer research. Huh? Huh? Huh?
Wait until your neighbor, the father of four, is sitting out in his driveway behind the wheel with some babe astraddle him, going at him like a Pony Express rider, and he explains that it’s not another woman, it’s just that the airbag on his Hummer X7 “special birthday edition” deployed. And you’ll go, “Where did you get something like that? And he’ll say, “Don’t know, I was just looking for a mini-van on Google.”
Sure, Google is our pal. It’s just so useful and transparent and easy to use, but the more we depend on computer-based information, which for me, is a lot, the more Google has control of it. What if people like we have in the Bush administration got hold of Google. People who were only concerned with image, and felt that they knew better than we do what we need to know? What if they were able to silence critics, simply by engineering filtering software that