Google Auto-Complete

Certainly one of the …what’s the right word? scarier? enlightening? …features of modern technology is Google autocomplete. From today’s NY Times:

WHY is the sky blue? Why do cats purr? And why did you get married? If you’re engaging in some year-end reflection, you’re not alone. These are among the mysteries people want explained.

We know this thanks to an “auto-suggest” feature many search engines now use. When you type even a single word into these search boxes, it gives you a list of suggested, presumably popular completions. Enter “Michelle,” for example, and you might get back Obama, Malkin, Pfeiffer.

Suggestions for the word “why” result in questions about the sky, cats and marriage (see above), along with “why do dogs eat grass” and “why do men cheat” and “why is pink the color for girls.” This labor-saving device — part fortuneteller, part shrink? — has opened a window into our collective soul. With millions of people pouring their hearts into this modern-day confessional, we get a direct, if mysterious, glimpse into the heads of our fellow Web surfers.

And it’s a glimpse that isn’t a pretty as these questions suggest. i remember a couple of autocompletes that I didn’t even want to think about the question, let alone the answer. (Play around a little bit and you’ll find that “how do I” and any verb leads invariably to a question about making one’s member bigger.)