Lessons from My Week Without Google

I had heard years ago about Google’s personalized search algorithm that delivered different results to different individuals based on the sites they had previously visited, but it wasn’t until about three weeks ago that I noticed my search results were looking overwhelmingly familiar. It made me wonder what I was missing. What were other people viewing that I was not?

So with a little bit of bravery – and a contrarian spirit – I put myself on a crash Google diet: no more Googling for one week. Could I do it? What revelations might this Google-free week reveal? Here are my lessons learned from a week without Google.

First, it was not as hard as I had thought it would be. I did not want to go a week without learning new things, so I had to find other avenues for finding answers to questions. There were plenty of alternatives. Twitter, Pinterest, and people I know were my most successful alternatives.

I turned to Twitter when I wanted to find some resources to talk to students about the dangers of perfectionism. Instead of opening a browser and using the Google search, I opened my Twitter app on my tablet and used the Discover tab. The app returned all the tweets that contained the word “perfectionism”. I read through the first 25 or so tweets, in chronological order. They had all been sent in the previous 24 hours. I scanned past the unhelpful ones quickly and found several that were on target. I liked the diversity of the sources people sited. One was from a professional conference being held that day, another was from a business managerial blog, and one was from an article for psychologists. I shared several of these sources with students in Tuesday’s announcements. Here are the tweets:

Notes from @falkowata’s talk at #dareconf about how to free yourself from perfectionism. Really enjoyed this! pic.twitter.com/vdfnmqfJA7

— Elisabeth Irgens (@elisabethirg) September 22, 2014


Here are 8 reasons being a perfectionist is holding you back – by @Inc http://t.co/qSreVVoeIE

— BI Strategy (@BI_Strategy) September 23, 2014

Lesson learned: if I am ready to ignore the returns that are clearly off target, then there are timely and useful results for me on Twitter.

A few days later I had a line of a poetry that was ringing around my head all day but I couldn’t remember the rest of it. I knew the poet and publication – A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad – and the rest was a Google search away, or a trip to the library, but I was off campus and wondering what else on my phone would help me. Then, on a whim, I opened up Pinterest and gave it a try. First I discovered that a Shropshire Lad is the name of a very pretty and popular pink rose. Putting Housman into the search then returned a number of pins from poetry lovers. I saw pictures of vintage, color title pages and then I saw this link to a video of the poem being read. It was even better than what I had in my mind when I started searching.

Lesson learned: as long as I am ready to sift through information visually instead of just in textual form, then Pinterest is a great gateway for inquiry.

And finally, I signed up for Tuesday afternoon’s “appy hour” for faculty, where we get together and share interesting apps we’ve been using on our iPads. I’ve tried a few e-readers and decided that Kindle is my favorite, so I wanted to share its X-ray features that let you see analytics on the book you are reading. I had used it a little but wanted to know more. Remembering my Google diet, I turned to people I know who use the app for advice and I also talked to our new librarian, Ruth Neely. I found out all sorts of great uses for the X-ray feature, but talking with Ms. Neely opened up other bonus information. Soon she was showing me new ways to find and borrow e-books from our Hansen Library. A few moments later I was paging through The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and downloading a Life Sciences textbook. I used X-ray on my Kindle app to look up terms, make flashcards, and save all my highlighted sections from the textbook reading in one place. Thanks to Ms. Neely, studying for the bio test would be so much easier!


Lesson learned: ask the knowledge experts around you – especially the librarians!

In the end, Google will remain a useful and desirable tool in my life. And for all those students who want to learn how to use it better, I encourage you to delve deeper into the different tools within the standard Google search. But I also confirmed that relying on any one source for knowledge, even if it is a search engine that connects to the entire internet, is limiting. I will definitely turn to Twitter, Pinterest, and the people around me more often.