“To be ontologically secure is to possess, on the level of the unconscious and practical consciousness, ‘answers’ to fundamental existential questions which all human life in some way addresses,” writes Giddens. What does Google have to do with this?
Quite a lot, argue Sanz and Stancik, authors of a recent paper in NMS. They suggest that search engines are important creators of ontological security: whatever we might be actually searching for, Google and co. help us find answers, or at any rate pretend to find answers, to higher level questions- answers which can satisfy us at some level (although this level might not be that of discursive consciousness). “Search turns chaos into control” – or perhaps the illusion of control, but such an illusion is the next best thing.
I don’t think these are revolutionary ideas to anyone familiar with e.g. Carey, and ritual models of communication in general. But it’s very interesting to see some empirical, hard data that is used as, if not their substantiation, then at least their illustration. For instance, there apparently is a statistically significant correlation between a general sense of trust in others and internet use – and it seems that this is a two-way relationship.
Using search engines, then, is often seen as a solitary activity – in the concrete sense, as well as in the sense that one’s search results are often personalized. But while pursuing such a solitary activity, we’re only getting a clearer sense of ourselves – in relation to the community of everyone else.