Jane Vorster | Dear Google, am I driving you mad with my stupid questions?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

These days there's so much that I feel thankful about. When I lie in bed at night I often make a mental list of it. Other than the obvious such as having a solid roof over my head, health, a job and all the other stuff that I often take for granted, I'm grateful that I've stopped torturing myself about deep cleaning my house and just learnt to live with the mess.

I'm relieved that after months of torturing my kids with home schooling they still find it in their hearts to kiss me before bedtime each night and tell me they love me.

And I'm constantly amazed that after all this time cooped up with me, my partner hasn't asked for a divorce.

So much to be thankful for. But most of all these days I'm grateful that nobody is looking over my shoulder and getting to see my search history because well, to put it bluntly, it's insane. 

Pre-lockdown my Google trawling was fairly run-of-the-mill - things like "Should you worry if you think your toddler has swallowed a battery?" (the short answer: yes. Get to the emergency room at once!) and "How to get a bead out of your child's nose" (there’s a sure-fire method. It's rather icky and sticky but it saved me from another trip to hospital).

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So you see, reasonable questions that any parent might ask. But these days, looking at my search history, I've got to admit there’s cause for concern. Google is no longer just my go-to search engine - it's now more like a genie in the bottle, a shrink, Santa Claus and a fairy godmother all rolled into one. Here's a sample:

1. Is my child a psychopath? (This one was after child 2 had done something really bad to her sister and then laughed about it).

2. Can home-made booze make you go blind? (I was having severe doubts about my partner's home-brewing project during phase-5 lockdown.)

3. Quick ways to calm down when your kids are annoying you (I was having a really bad day with home schooling)

4. Is it possible for your head to explode with annoyance? (This one had nothing to do with no 3 - well actually, let me be honest, it did. When Child 2 did something spectacularly stupid, breaking a glass in the process, I huffed and puffed, telling my partner that my head was going to explode with annoyance. Pretty dramatic hey? If nothing else I hoped it would shut my kids up and inspire them to sit still for five minutes and stop breaking things. But Child 1 promptly piped up with, "Don't worry, Mom's just exaggerating again. It's not possible for your head to explode."

Oh really? A quick Google search revealed that there actually is such a thing as Exploding Head Syndrome – so take that, Child 1! The condition is completely painless, doesn't result in any blood and gore and probably won’t kill you -  but I don’t think I’m going to share any of these facts with my kids.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

5. How to tell if your kitten really likes you (Keyed in during a moment of extreme insecurity and self doubt.)

6. Who is Brad Pitt dating? (I swear this one was for work purposes.)

8. What does it mean if you dream about being chased by a porcupine?  (A terrible omen. I’m sorry I asked.)

9. Why is the sky blue? (Helping Kid 1 with a school assignment).

10. Is Donald Trump mad? (Well, sometimes you've got to wonder.)

11. Covid-19: are we all going to die? (Okay, I'll admit, this one came during a very long, dark night of the soul. But I'm glad I asked the question because I found the answer strangely reassuring. We're all going to die eventually, but for most people it probably won't be because of Covid.)

If Google was an actual person I'd feel very sorry for her/him/them - all these random brain farts, these things I'd never dream of vocalising to another human being. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a former data scientist at Google, believes the search engine fulfils an invaluable service in helping people to deal with their worries.

"I think there's something very comforting about that little white box that people feel very comfortable telling things that they may not tell anybody else about: their sexual interests, their health problems, their insecurities."

But actually even just thinking about Seth makes me feel sick with worry. By analysing millions of questions people keyed into Google, he was able to write an entire book, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are.

I wonder what my searches reveal about me. Google could probably tell me - but somehow that’s one question I’m too afraid to ask.

- Jane Vorster is YOU’s assistant editor

*Covid-19 is keeping many of us indoors. Our shopping trips have become brief, normal activities have been halted. Many have been wondering if they’ll still get their copy of their favourite YOU magazine. And how will we find things to do while indoors.

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