Google was following me. Or so it seemed. Immediately after my visit to the Google complex in Mountain View, California, I drove on to Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula. I confess to being a bit jaded at this stage in my life, and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to spending a couple of nights in a cabin in the woods with my sister and my roommate from the early 80s. But it turned out great.
Big Sur is God’s Country. The redwoods are magnificent and though our cabin happened to be under a pine tree that dropped cones on the roof all night long, it didn’t matter. The air was pristine, and in the early morning a family of deer grazed so close to the cabin you could almost touch them. They were safe here (not like up in Sonoma County where, on the same trip, I heard a terrible tale of one vineyard owner who delights in setting his dogs on any deer that wandered near his grapes). Here all was peaceful. One morning my sister and I, both early risers, left the roommate sleeping and found a magnificent beach that Shannon Deegan had told us about – it’s not signposted but we met a park ranger who told us how to get there. It was empty except for a couple and their dog, and you could hear the waves crash through a hole in the rocks that jut out into the ocean. Later we hiked a trail that ended on another beach and then hiked it again going the other way so as to end up on the bluffs. From our cabin we hiked through the redwoods to a waterfall – not very full now as California is in its third year of drought. (On a visit to Hearst Castle, the beautiful estate of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, we were greeted with Porta-potties – the toilets are closed to save water.)
But back to Google. Of course, our cabin had been booked by Googling “Big Sur,” as were our tickets to Hearst Castle, and our hotel in Monterey, which we booked online from the road. It seemed that everywhere we went, Google accompanied us. In the Big Sur Lodge, I glanced at the local paper and the front-page photograph was of a park ranger with his Google trekking camera on his back. (Google’s technology has now made it possible for you to virtually visit a host of national parks without leaving your home), and as we drove back up the coast to San Francisco, a driverless Google street mapping car drove in the lane beside us, and eventually passed us.
Google is in our lives, and I for one am grateful.
I remember when I first heard the term Google. It was my magazine designer at the time who told me of this great new search engine. It changed the way we operate at Irish America. Google Docs and Gchat mean that we can work from anywhere (except the cabins in Big Sur), and Google Calendar is genius. Then there’s the fun stuff like Google Earth, the virtual globe that allows me to find my home in Ireland and see that the gate is painted (good man, Mike). It’s weird and wonderful.
Of course, there’s a downside.
Several years ago my friend Dolores called me from Ireland. “Patricia are you sitting down?” she asked before relaying the awful news. “Patricia, your age is up on the Internet.” Her daughter had Googled me and all was revealed. It hurt, but it also cuts down on fibbing, and motivates me to put on lipstick before leaving the house because you never know where that photo is going to end up!
I walked into the world of the future when I entered the Google complex. It was all a bit daunting but I had a good guide in Shannon Deegan who is the most down-to-earth person you could meet. The experience made me glad that I’ve lived this long. I’ve seen so much of man’s ability to
create. (Sometimes when I flick a light switch I remember as a little kid reaching up for the switch in the sitting room of our farmhouse, as the crew and my father toasted the rural electrification project that had just brought this magic into our lives.)
I came away from my conversation with Shannon hopeful for the future, and convinced that Google is a force for good. Not just for the amazing products in development, and the money the company gives to fund scholarships for students, workshops for veterans, and programs to encourage more women in science. All the information Google is making available to us helps us see more clearly where we are in terms of our human evolution, and where we are going.
And while it’s amusing to know that the most Googled recipes for Thanksgiving were Pig Pickin Cake in North Carolina and stuffed artichokes in New York, Google can predict a flu epidemic faster than the Center for Disease Control. It can, through satellite photos in the Google Earth project, monitor a natural disaster like the tsunami in Japan, and by showing before-and-after photos, where rescue workers need to be.
It can predict weather patterns and help us find ways to save water and save the earth – this sweet spot on which we live.