Monday, November 07, 2011
David M. Berry on the phenomenology of instant search.
Google now has an ‘instant’ search, which even removes the requirement to press the Return key or click the search button, actively trying to guess what the user is trying to do, if not steer the direction of their thought. This demonstrates the very lack of withdrawal or semi-withdrawal of computational devices that I wish to explore in this chapter together with the phenomenological implications of this relationship. This is the phenomena of ‘unreadiness-to-hand’ which forces us to re-focus on the equipment, because it frustrates any activity temporarily that is that the situation requires deliberate attention. In the case of Google Instant, one would think that this might make the search process easier or more intuitive, but in fact the situation is quite the reverse, precluding the chance for the user to think about what it is they wish to search for. Conspicuousness, then, ‘presents the available equipment as in a certain unavailableness’, so that as Dreyfus explains, we are momentarily startled, and then shift to a new way of coping, but which, if help is given quickly or the situation is resolved, then ‘transparent circumspective behaviour can be so quickly and easily restored that no new stance on the part of Dasein is required’. As Heidegger puts it, it requires ‘a more precise kind of circumspection, such as “inspecting”, checking up on what has been attained, [etc.]’. This is certainly the case with Google Instant, which with every keystroke constantly updates the screen, requiring more effort to check what has been typed and what is being shown.

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