We take it absolutely for granted these days that proper Google use can be as much of a skill as fine tuning a grand piano. Many of us remain ashamedly unaware that there are some search terminologies that require the finesse, elegance and artful deliberation that can only be accomplished through proper Boolean techniques.
Now, your broad terms don’t require such elan to achieve optimum results: news, weather, aubergine recipes, axe murderers, but the more detailed your results need to be, the more complex the search terms can get. Remember, it’s not always enough to rely on short, obvious keywords and hoping the algorithm will get you there. Sometimes you do have to wheedle out not only any inaccurate results, but also the unnecessary fluff that’s irrelevant to your needs.
As a result, the more convoluted your requirements, the more frustrating it can be when Google can’t quite seem to nail what it is you’re after.
This is why I’m still not sure whether it’s okay to drink mouthwash or not.
Back in the heady days of 2008 when the world was [X] and everything was [Y], I was an experienced, mature and – dare I say – professional undergraduate student. Ah, to be young and poor again rather than being older and crippled with lifelong debt. Ah, to live the carefree existence that university life offered where you didn’t quite belong anywhere in society, but you weren’t quite the social pariah you would eventually become once you were cast back amongst the living without a net.
Alcohol was the key for many-a-blurry-eyed student. I was no exception. I was no stranger to the allure of beer and cider. I was, however, very much a foreigner to managing funds correctly. Thus, I found myself at the beginning of my third year mere days away from that precious pot of wealth that is the student loan without a single penny to my name.
My friend and I sat in his room, self pitying each other, withering away in a sober mess having spent the summer in a haze of nothingness and intoxicated elation. We had just moved into our halls of residence, our deposits paid and our stuff moved in. But we were penniless at that point. And we wanted a drink. No, you don’t understand….we badly wanted a drink. We were days away from payment and there was not a drop of alcohol that we could get our hands on.
It was then one of us spotted it. On the shelf under the bathroom mirror stood a gleaming bottle of unopened mouthwash. Our eyes met, a glint returning. Drool dripped from our chins. Fingers clenched with evil overlord mischief.
(I’m embellishing the details for comedic effect. You basically get the gist of where this is going)
But was it safe to drink? Reaching for the bottle, we saw that one of the key ingredients was indeed alcohol. Now picture two grown men, sat in student accommodation, laptops open and feverishly Googling whether or not it was possible to quaff Listerine without succumbing to poisoning. Despite what you might have heard, it is actually possible to get lower than rock bottom…if you’re willing to live under said rock.
The problem we encountered was that no matter how thorough our searches were (we were each using a laptop in order to double our chances of a satisfactory answer), the results remained inconclusive. Our questions went from vague to detailed-analysis-on-bitcoin-mining. But the results yielded were largely indeterminate and no change of tactic could get us further to a definite truth.
How much alcohol does it contain? How much could you drink? How poisonous is poisonous? Which specific brands is it safe to drink? Is the burning sensation the alcohol itself or all that lovely mint flavouring? Why won’t my mother return my calls?
We left a trail of search term breadcrumbs in our Google history the likes of which, these days at least, would have probably landed us a sponsorship deal with Oral B. It’s a sad state of affairs when two grownups were actively seeking help from an online robot in determining whether or not a minty breath freshener could be repurposed as a cheap alternative to Schnapps. What’s perhaps even more concerning is that our best efforts were beaten by a string of unreliable source material and a search algorithm that was still finding its feet.
It’s weird to think how easily we can find the answer to almost anything via effective use of a few choice keywords. It’s weirder still to think that we’ve become so accustomed to Google (almost jadedly so), that we don’t even consider the possibility that some things just can’t be answered. Oh, there probably are more reliable answers to me and my friend’s conundrum, but I like to think that we are no longer in need of those results.
Anyway, due to lack of a definite yes or no, we chose to re-shelve the mouthwash and never speak of the incident again. I like to think we learned something that day, not so much about ourselves, but more about how plumbing the depths of human desperation can seemingly trump one of the most sophisticated search engines in the world. I can’t say for certain whether that’s a win for humanity or not so let me Google that for you.