The 7 deadly sins of Googling
Google is a godsend for all of us, from those who stutter and stumble through life to even the most knowledgeable of folks looking to confirm their facts and figures.
A well-placed nugget of information courtesy of Google (GOOG) (or Yahoo, sure, or Bing, but come on—you use Google) can prepare you for a challenging conversation or nervy meeting, and it can display for you, stripped bare, any person’s minor errors and major accomplishments.
But with great power comes great responsibility, and sometimes Google leads us astray. Just this week, New York magazine wrote that resisting from Googling a potential date is “the new abstinence.” Here are the seven deadly sins that come along with relying too heavily on the G-force.
Greed: When your thirst for knowledge leads to errors
They say fortune favors the well prepared, but when Fortune managing editor Andy Serwer sat down to dinner with Chevron (CVX) CEO John Watson, preparation backfired. Serwer asked Watson about his position on the board of the San Diego Padres, a factoid he’d picked up doing pre-dinner research on Wikipedia, a page he had been directed to through The Big G. Turns out that’s another John Watson. Oops.
Watson’s team at Chevron has hunted down the original source and the Wiki entry has since been changed, but here at Fortune, a vague feeling of betrayal lingers in the air. After all, where would reporters be without Google? But Google gives preference to Wikipedia, and Wiki now hath poisoned our trust. Or at least Serwer’s.
Gluttony: When you gather too much information
Sometimes, you might go on a rampage and Google everything. Your friends. Your boss. Your boss’s significant other. Their boss. Your friend’s boss’s significant other’s boss’s dog (not that we’ve ever done such a thing). Sometimes you learn things you really didn’t need to know—things you, perhaps, shouldn’t know, but can never quite forget. It’s TMI. It’s a little like the time a Fortune summer intern started to dump names into the Googlesphere only to find out that a college friend’s father was a registered sex offender.
Lust: When researching a romantic interest gets creepy
If you’re single, many of your Google hunts may be fueled by… non-platonic interest. It can include Facebook photo binges, clicking through 10 pages’ worth of search results, and sneaking a peek at someone’s Instagram account (if public). But then when you actually run into, or go out with, the object of your search affections, you face a real dilemma: feign surprise at the personal things they tell you, or acknowledge you already know? Thanks to Google, you already know their college alma mater; their favorite color; their street address; and the exact pattern of their cobbled driveway (thanks, Streetview)… we’ll stop there.
Sloth: When you lazily rely on the opinions of others
Sometimes Google impressions trump first impressions. In a piece on Match.com, author Steve Friedman writes that he once went out with a sex-columnist who decided to cancel their second date after her post-date Google search turned up some of his articles, even though she thought he was sweet and funny in person.
Worse yet, sometimes there is no chance for a first impression. People are relying more and more on online reviews, and as a result, companies or products with low reviews or simply not a large total of reviews don’t get business. Michael Luca, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, released a 2011 working paper that found that a one-star increase on Yelp leads to a 5-9% increase in revenue for restaurants. But what happens to new restaurants that haven’t been reviewed much yet, or restaurants that hire a new chef and up their game? Sometimes, there’s more to reality than what Google can tell you.
Wrath: When you tamper with Google results
Wikipedia is notorious for allowing users to change the text—and, what do you know?—sometimes they do it to suit their own purposes. After Chile beat Spain two-nil in this year’s World Cup, the Wikipedia entry for the Chile National Soccer Team’s page was changed to say, “Dear Spain, LOL. Say bye to the World Cup…… From Chile.” Or take the change from mid-May, when the New York Rangers came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A few days later, the Pens’ Wiki page listed the Rangers as the owner of the team. Malicious, yet creative.
Envy: When you’re jealous of someone else’s Google results
Social media can lead to envy. It can lead, possibly, to depression. In a 2013 study, University of Michigan researchers Ethan Kross and Philippe Verduyn texted people while they were using Facebook, and found that as time on Facebook increased, a person’s mood and overall satisfaction with their lives declined. In other words, Facebook can make you jealous. It can make you feel more alone than connected. Kross and Verduyn didn’t look at other social media networks, but it’s fair to say that looking through lists of other people’s accolades, impressive resumes, and social media clout can just as easily turn you green around the ears.
Pride: When you expect other people to have Googled you
Sure, we live in a world where Googling someone has become more than common courtesy—it’s practically basic hygiene. Business meetings, dinner dates, job interviews: Google, Google, Google them. But when you sit down with someone and find out that they haven’t Googled you, and they have no idea who you are, what you’ve done? Painful. But it shouldn’t be.
Fortune (and Fortune!) favors the bold. Mind your sins. Go forth and Google, sparingly.