Autocomplete and a loss of confidence

While dorking out and reading Morville & Callender’s Search Patterns, I came across this sentence:

“A few years ago, results were the only reply. Our goal was a subsecond response. Now, with autocomplete and autosuggest, the results may precede the query.”

From Search Patterns – Peter Morville & Jeffery Callender

This is space-aged, mind reading insanity, if you ask me. AWESOME insanity, but insanity all the same.

Think about it. Through the power of logarithms and the invention of autocomplete, computers – unthinking, non-human computers, completely dependent upon input entered by real humans who can think and reason and instinctively make cross-subject associations – are giving us suggestions as to what we might want BEFORE WE EVEN FINISH telling them what we might want.

I’m not going to go into the technology behind logarithmic search results and prediction, because I’m certainly not smart enough to understand it and, let’s face it, we’re so used to this kind of thing that we’re surprised it doesn’t happen more.

I’m just saying we should stand back a few steps and realized what we’ve created: an alternate form of memory that remembers things we often can’t remember on our own. We depend on things like search and autocomplete and autosuggest to fill in the spaces between our mind’s memories and the concepts we are aware of but can’t find time to memorize.

And this dependence upon autocomplete may be leading to a lack of confidence when applying memory to non-autocomplete sectors. Like, you know, MOST OF REGULAR LIFE.

We use autocomplete and autosuggest to get “sort of close” to our targets, accepting that Google will bridge the gap. We no longer need to spell things correctly. (Another auto – “auto spellcheck” – is guilty here.) And when we’re forced to find answers without autocomplete, we find ourselves slowing down. There’s no confidence in our answer. We’re lost without a back-up.

There’s no answer to this problem, either. Autocomplete and autosuggest are saviors in an era of overstimulated information feeds. Our minds are simply too occupied to remember everything, and – thankfully – we don’t have to anymore.

Thankfully. And cautiously.

We don’t really know what we’re forgetting until we’re given a chance to forget it all over again.

This was lovingly handwritten on July 14th, 2010