If every technological extension is also an amputation—as Marshall McLuhan said—then I wonder what part of me Google will cut off next.
First there was the part that forgot to include attachments with emails. “Did you mean to attach files?” Gmail helpfully asked one day. “You wrote, ‘I’m attaching’ in your message, but there are no files attached.” Then there was the part that could quote Marshall McLuhan without Googling. Soon, perhaps, I’ll actually be looking for a recipe for “marshmallow fondant”—not the old master himself. We used to say that Google was making us stupid. But now the process is complete: Google knows we’re stupid. Quite how stupid, though, you might not realize.
For the last several years I have been on a quest—see my new book, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet—to visit the actual, physical Internet: its wires, buildings, and places. We tend to think of infrastructure like this—when we bother to think of it at all—as top secret and obscured, the kinds of places listed in WikiLeaks dumps, protected by rent-a-cops, and generally inscrutable. All those things are undoubtedly true.