II usually don’t like heaping praise on Google. For years, I’ve looked at the company that dominates Internet search with equal parts admiration and hostility: admiration for its unique approach and “free” services, and hostility for the level of personal privacy these services actually cost.
The other night, though, I came across something from Google that’s hard to find a negative about.
Am I old enough to remember when search engines were new creatures and Google was a new competitor to Yahoo! I liked that the company name was a play on googol and googolplex.
Both are mathematical terms for ludicrously large numbers that I am having a hard time defining for you because I am not, nor will I ever be, a mathematician. Milton Sirotta, the then 9-year-old nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner, initially helped his uncle name both numbers in 1920, and described googolplex as “one, followed by writing zeros until you get tired”.
Kasner continued to nail him with a little more precision. Wikipedia tells me that Carl Sagan, the well-known astronomer and science educator, said that writing it in full decimal form (10,000,000,000…) would require more space than is available in the known universe.
At the time, I just knew it was a term for a special kind of very large number that I wasn’t able to comprehend.
However, I liked the inside joke and eventually started using their Yahoo! search engine, along with the rest of mankind.
While Google’s top-secret search algorithm is still its bread and butter, today’s company is so much more.
There’s a good chance your phone is running an operating system based on Google’s Android software. Or your computer is using its popular web browser, Chrome. Or that you use its Gmail service to send and receive emails.
Maybe you can’t afford Microsoft Office for productivity and instead use Google’s office suite, including Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Keep, and more.
To store these documents, you can use its Google Drive cloud server.
And, at the end of a long day, you use Google’s YouTube video sharing service to unwind.
In short, if you have a computational need, Google – or rather, its parent company, Alphabet – is there to fill it.
Most of these products have at least three things in common.
First, they are usually very well done. Google’s software designers have done a great job of making distinct products that are, in general, easy to use and attractively presented.
As someone who drives on the Apple side of the road, I sometimes delight in using them occasionally just to see how they approach things.
Secondly, they are, in general, free. You can get most Google products just by signing up.
Once you start with a free Google account, you have access to everything. Just find a way to access the internet and Google will do the rest.
They are platform independent, which means that it doesn’t matter if you use Apple’s MacOS or iOS, Microsoft Windows, Android-based phones or Linux-based computers, Google is there for all of them.
The big downside to this is that Google makes its money by feeding advertisers eyeballs. So all of its free services are, in essence, a lure to create an advertising profile about your personal likes and dislikes to an extremely disturbing degree.
Depending on your privacy settings, Google can keep tabs on where you go, what you watch, what you search for on the internet, what products you search for, and more.
While writing this article, I discovered that my Google profile made incorrect assumptions about my marital status, income, education level, and other details.
My conundrum now is whether to go back and correct these misconceptions, thus giving them an even more detailed profile of me, or leave them be.
As a result of this behind-the-scenes surveillance, I generally keep Google at arm’s length.
I use Google’s search engine, calendar, and occasionally Gmail and Chrome, but try to remember that, as actor Robert Carlyle Rumpelstiltskin’s character once said, “Magic always has a price.”
All of that fades into insignificance on Google’s Arts and Culture website (artsandculture.google.com) and its accompanying mobile app.
I rediscovered this site the other day while looking for an alternative to mindlessly scrolling through Apple News, TikTok, and any other internet time-killer where my days seem to disappear — something I’m trying to change about myself.
The way I see it, if I have to waste time glued to a screen, at least I can waste it trying to improve myself.
The Arts and Culture app/website truly offers the prospect of a guilt-free swiping of fate.
The site is nothing more than a visual archive of over 3,000 art and culture museums around the world, with generous examples of their collections.
For example, the Art Institute of Chicago, where I once spent an afternoon in the mid-1990s fooling around at a journalism education conference, has 563 pieces on virtual display, including textiles, sculptures, and paintings by some of the world’s most famous artists.
I went looking for Van Gogh and Renior that day, but the website showed me some lost masterpieces I wish I had known: Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”, Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”, just to name a few.
There is literally more to the website than I can list here; games of all kinds focused on art and culture and the possibility of virtually visiting famous museums using the Street View technology of Google Maps.
And if you have an augmented reality-capable phone or tablet, you can often see the paintings projected in their actual size wherever you are.
In short, there’s a lot to pull you in, so don’t blame me if you find yourself wasting an hour or two once you’re there.
But if you’re the type of person who enjoys the visual arts, I promise you it will be time well spent.
GLENN TANNER is managing editor of The Post Intelligence. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.