Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

September 30, 2013

TIDBITS: There was life before Google

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — Gather around, boys and girls. I have a tale to tell that you may find too far fetched. You’ll think I’m pulling your leg. You’ll demand I stop fooling. But what I’m about to tell you is the honest-to-goodness truth.

There was life before Google.

We were still able to go about and research topics and find information. But back then, back before Google joined forces with the World Wide Web and became one of the top search engines, we had to go to libraries. And in that library was this wooden piece of furniture. It had all these drawers, but they weren’t very big. Inside was card after card after card. This was called the card catalog and you would use it to look up books, by title, author or subject. The card would give you a number and you would then have to go find the book on the shelf. After that, you either used the index or read the book, depending on how much information you needed.

If you just wanted some general information, you could go straight to the encyclopedia.

Now, the encyclopedia was a set of books that contained reference information on a variety of topics. Similar to the Wikipedia you may know of today, an actual encyclopedia covered a multitude of topics, with volumes A through Z. Unlike Wikipedia, you actually had to know a thing or two about the subject matter before you wrote an entry for others to read.

I can’t recall how we answered those more trivial questions, like whether or not old actors or musicians are still alive, the name of that song playing over the Muzak or the name of that actor who keeps popping up in all those movies.

If you wanted to know the score of a ball game, you had to be watching it on TV (yes, we had those way back then) or the radio. Needing to know what movies were playing at the cinema? You had to get up and go to the phone and call. Back then there were actually wireless phones, but they worked in your house. If you weren’t at home, you had to look for these public phones that required a shiny quarter to make a call.

Google celebrated its 15th anniversary Friday, having registered the domain name Google.com Sept. 27, 1998, and changing our lives forever.

Now, 15 years later, the search engine has grown so popular and become so ingrained in our culture that “Google” is considered a verb. “To Google, a transitive verb, means to use the Google search engine to obtain information on the Web.” So popular was the phrase that the American Dialect Society chose it as the most useful word of 2002.

Technically, Google is older than 15 years. It actually began in January 1996 as a research project by Stanford University doctoral students Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They revolutionized the search of the Internet with their theory of PageRank, which determined a website’s relevance by the number of pages, and the importance of those pages, that linked back to the original site.

Stanford must have been quite the exciting place back then, if you understood what was happening on the Internet following the creation of the World Wide Web. In 1993, six Stanford undergrads created Excite. In 1994, Yahoo was born after two Stanford electrical engineering students created a directory of their favorite sites. That’s quite a legacy.

Today, Google offers easy access to a huge amount of information, putting answers to questions big and small right at our fingertips. It also offers email. Its maps help us to find our way in strange cities or just down the road. It owns YouTube. It launched its own web browser. They’ve got a phone, and Google Drive lets you share documents with friends around the world.

In the Chronicle newsroom, just on Friday, Google helped us find information on fiberglandular tissue, Tennessee’s breast and cervical program and a remake on the way for horror film classic Carrie (look for more on that in an upcoming Tidbits column).

I think I’m fortunate. Yes, I grew up in this age of amazing technological leaps and bounds, but I also grew up at a time when we had to do things the old way, the hard way and the slower way. It makes you appreciate the enormous advantage we have today, when information is only a click away.

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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.