These days, it's Google this and Google that. Google offers itself as a tool of a dot com company, and I use the word tool in the traditional sense, meaning an implement, even a virtual implement, something useful that one can use to accomplish an important task. I don't mean tool in the sense that my daughter uses the word, when she says, Billie is a total tool. I've no idea what poor Billie has done or failed to do, but I'm sure I don't want to hear her apply the word to me.
If Google is a tool, it's an unconventional one. Instead of the traditional one-way street of tool use, namely us using it to get things done, Google's deal is that turnabout is fair play, so Google uses all of us to do its important, profitable work. In a binary world, it may be perfection, though one has to wonder who's getting the most from the arrangement.
According to the old way of using tools, for instance the Yellow Pages, we'd let our fingers do the walking, find what we were looking for, then toss the book aside. We followed a centuries old protocol, begun when some hominid took a nearby rock in hand and bashed in the skull of the pterodactyl, then pitched the rock and began to eat.
In these modern times, we tools (as my daughter might say) use tools and then complain of information overload. We have in mind the Internet or the World Wide Web. We rarely think of the Yellow Pages.
But for undifferentiated and unevaluated information in diluvial quantities, delivered all at once in hard copy, the Yellow Pages is the Internet's Mini-Me. No clicks, no flickers. Just thump. It lands on your desk, and consulting it, you might find something you didn't know you were seeking.
Everyone worries about the dangers of surfing the net. There's so much there, we hear, and so much of it is junk. What will happen to the children if they come upon a naked image, especially a naked image messing around with another naked image? What if they exchange a few electronically deconstructed, transmitted, and reconstructed flickers of light with a pervert? After all, it's the creeps and the porno people who are making money off the web. They are the true innovators, the ones with the high numbers of unique visitors. (Not so unique really, as it turns out.) Few others - certainly not all the Internet high fliers that your pension funds invest in - have made a dime.
Well, danger lurks in the Yellow Pages, too. The other day I was passing the time. I could have surfed the web, but I was afraid if I told Google what I was looking for, Google would know and salt it away to use against me one day. Besides, I wasn't looking for anything. Plus, with Google, there's always the danger that you will stumble upon one of those online trading sites, masquerading as a plumbing supply company. Without meaning to, you begin buying stock because the commissions are so low. But although the advertisements for online brokers never announce this (except perhaps in the fine print), after you execute one of those lightning fast trades on a stock you researched yourself, well, you have to pay for it. What a surprise. Pretty soon, you've spent the kids' allowance, and still you can't stop. You know how that story goes.
I didn't want to get anywhere near that possibility, so I turned to the Yellow Pages. What caught my eye was a listing for Lapping Compounds. I thought immediately of Diesel, the English mastiff. Diesel has enormous lapping issues. Namely, when he laps, the furniture in the vicinity of his work gets doused. When he's done lapping, he doesn't know how to tidy himself up, except by shaking his head, which spreads the results of his lapping to our walls and pictures. The slimy stains have added a sort of Munsters ambiance to the living room. Any help I could find, any compound at all that dried up Diesel's lapping would be worth investigating. But, it turned out that the compounds the Yellow Pages had in mind were abrasives, the kind you use when you're roughing something up before polishing or refinishing it. As irritating as Diesel's lapping may be, abrasives won't help.
Another time, years ago, the Yellow Pages led me to a company that imported Scandinavian warm water filled spas that they would install in your office. The spas came with protected computer terminals that you could safely and efficiently use while soothing the kinks. I looked around at my plywood desk, with the piles of paper I should be reading instead of the Yellow Pages. I looked at my radio, which only plays one channel, no matter what button you push, and doesn't play CDs at all any more. I considered the snarl of wires that somehow connect the phone, the laptop, the radio, and the light that doesn't work and, I thought, I deserve that work station/spa. I thought how comfy it would be, working in my bathing suit, soothing the aching muscles, watching Citizen Kane over and over, hydrating to beat the band, all day, every day. I'm going to get me one of those things, I thought, as I ripped the page from the book and pinned it to the wall.
Of course, it didn't work out, and it was an embarrassingly low-tech moment in my business life. No matter whether it was the Lapping Compounds or a dot com spa manufacturer in Sweden or Norway, where I suppose everybody works in bubbling hot water all winter, the great thing was the serendipity of it. The Yellow Pages had transported me just the way Google does and tempted me as I might have been tempted by Google's algorithmic embrace. All to no useful purpose, I know. But, the difference is that I didn't know what I wanted until I found the Lapping Compounds or the work station/spa. Even Google couldn't guess they were what I was looking for.