Sometimes, I wonder what historians of the future are going to be writing about, when they examine the early twenty-first century. No doubt, the term “digital revolution” is going to creep in to more than one monograph of the future about our present-day times. Cultural historians (if cultural history is still in vogue) might also, I think, take some delight in tracing the ways in which Google has entered into modern consciousness. Perhaps they’ll trace the moment when Google ceased to be only a proper noun, when the phrase “Let’s google it!” first appeared, and then flourished, in popular discourse. Or maybe they’ll explore the ways in which Google has become a part of popular culture and everyday life, to the point of inspiring satirical responses expressed in, you guessed it, digital ways.

Here are some anecdotes to help that future cultural historian.

* * * * *

Awhile ago, a friend told me an amusing story about how the father of one of her friends was confused about the nature of the Internet. He had never used it before (yes, there are still such folks), and he didn’t quite know what it was all about. So, one day, he asked his son to explain, framing his question according to the only term that he was familiar with – or had heard often enough: “Is Google,” he asked innocently, “the Internet?” The son choked back a gasp of unholy laughter, and proceeded to explain the phenomenon of the Internet to his father. However, if he had simplified his response, if he had said that Google was, in a way, the Internet, he may not have been all that wrong.

* * * * *

During Christmas dinner with my family this past winter, Google (of all topics) entered into our conversation. I don’t remember how exactly. All I recall is that my mom, who (yes, it’s true) had never heard of Google before, perked up when she heard the term at the dinner table, probably because of its odd sound. “Google?” she said, brows furrowed, “what is Google?” To that, my dad, without missing a beat, responded (in Chinese) that Google “is the big brother of the Internet.” Now, “big brother” (or “dai lo”) in Cantonese, when used in a figurative sense, simply means someone who is to be respected, some important or dominant figure or force. But I couldn’t help laughing at the Orwellian overtones that my father’s comment had unwittingly implied. He had meant big brother; I, of course, had heard Big Brother, Chinese-style.

* * * * *

Back in September, Dr. Don Spanner, my archival sciences professor, showed the class a video clip called Epic 2015. Its opening lines were captivatingly ambiguous: “It is the best of times,” said the solemn narrator, “It is the worst of times.” We were entranced by the video’s fictitious yet somewhat chilling projection of the world in 2015, which involved no less than the merging of two powerful companies (Google and Amazon) to become Googlezon, an entity whose information-making and dissemination power had reduced even the might of the New York Times. At the end of the clip, Don joked that the first time he watched it, he just wanted to sit in a corner and stare at paper for a long, long time. We all laughed – and, perhaps, shivered inside a bit too.

Subsequently, I mentioned the clip to a friend, remarking how it was so interesting to see just how big Google had become, as evidenced by the fact that it was inspiring such responses as Epic 2015 with its subtle questioning of the Google empire and its cultural hegemony. My friend in turn enlightened me further about other similar responses. He asked if I had ever heard of “The Googling”? I hadn’t. So he emailed me links to several clips on YouTube, which explore Google’s services (such as their mapping devices) in a new – and, of course, hilariously sinister – way. To view them…simply google “The Googling.” 🙂 (There are five parts.)

* * * * *

To the cultural historian of the future:

It was true. Google was (is?) ubiquitous, to the point that it entered into dinner table conversations and was mistaken (or correctly identified?) for the Internet. Even to the point of inspiring satirical YouTube clips and prophetic visions of a Google-ized world. That is, of course, when you know something is big – when it becomes the subject of cultural humour and unease, negotiated and even resisted in satirical ways.

So, we embraced Google even while scrutinizing it at arm’s length. We questioned Google even while googling. It’s what we did in the early twenty-first century.