Everyone loves Google right? What’s not to like. A free online search engine that gives you instant access to any information you want. A digital library of Alexandria that you can keep with you in your pocket and access on the go.
Google entertains us, educates us and helps us navigate our way through life. The search engine is so integral to our modern world that we’ve made it into a verb. We even use it to end debates or arguments.
The Big Question
Who hasn’t heard ‘According to Google…’ and listened, wide-eyed, as the Almighty speaks and someone’s theory is either tossed out or given the golden seal of approval.
Have you ever heard someone say ‘well Google is wrong’? Did you laugh that person out of the room with a ‘Google..wrong? what an absolute nutter’ type response?
We have an unshakeable bond and trust with Google that goes far beyond its role as a useful information tool. Think about how many times you use Google in your day, how many times it’s helped you work something out or made your life simpler.
Google can help us with practically anything. Want to know how to get to your interview? Need to buy a sewing kit to upcycle your tea towel? Want a recipe to make bread? Need to ask something in Spanish? Just google it.
Our first port of call is to ‘google it’ because it always has the answer. It’s proven itself as an all-seeing, all-knowing information portal. Even when someone tells us reliable information, we still google it, just in case they’re wrong. We trust Google above anything else.
A great example is following directions given by mere mortals. I’ll give you an example out of my own life – I went to an event last week and went to the wrong location. The very nice man who answered the door explained in detail how to get to the right venue. I listened to exactly none of it because I knew I could use Google. I thanked him, left and then got out my smartphone. I even got slightly annoyed that he wasted 3 minutes of my life explaining where to go when I was late and have Google Maps. I’m pretty sure his directions were exactly on point, but I had my blinkers on and wanted to listen to the only voice that counted.
I’m not alone in thinking this way. The fact that we tend to go straight to Google before we go to friends, family or even books is a colossal change to how we interact with and trust information. We are slowly but surely using one source of information to form our entire perception and knowledge of the world around us.
And it doesn’t stop there. We don’t just ask Google practical questions, we also ask it the most intimate, existential questions that pop into our heads, the questions we are too scared to ask the closest people in our lives.
What’s so bad about googling something you aren’t sure about?
In theory, absolutely nothing. But there are 2 important points to keep in mind –
We aren’t cross-checking information from other sources
We are swapping multiple sources of information for just one
The Gospel Truth
The fact is we aren’t second-guessing Google as much as we should. If Google started pointing us to badly researched articles, far too many of us would believe the information in the article because Google recommended it. Maybe some of us would search for a couple more articles, but those articles still come from Google. The number of people that actually look through real books and magazines or even use a tandem search engine is very low.
Our growing habit of not cross-checking facts via different mediums gives us tunnel vision information, especially when looking up history, culture, political beliefs and the daily news. So when Google modifies its algorithms and Google ranking criteria (which it does often to keep one step ahead of the ranking tricksters) it actually has a detrimental effect on our perception of truth and facts.
For example, if the algorithm starts favouring one website link over another, you are more likely to read it and take it on board as part of your opinion on a subject. Google algorithms quite literally change us and the world around us. Like an existential game of digital chess.
Blast from the past
And then there’s fake news and social media, how readily it’s shared and how much it can influence elections, political movements, and our own views of the world. Google sits in the middle of it all, helping us glide through the fake news clouds, bouncing from website to website.
Propaganda or fake news also isn’t a new thing. The powers that be and the institutions they belong to have been doing it for a very long time. What is different though is the way we gain access to and how much we are exposed to propaganda, and Google is intrinsically part of that shift.
In the past, we would tell our priest (or equivalent) our deepest darkest secrets and we would change our view of the world based on what they told us. They were our existential guides, who would help us navigate the world according to scriptures. Many people still do this, but lot’s of us have decided that we want to make our own way in life.
What we don’t realise is that Google has taken up that empty space. Algorithm led content acts as digital scripture and the pragmatic priests are the website creators sitting on Google’s ranking lists.
Our need to be guided by some sort of institution never went away. We are still highly influenceable and need more knowledgeable people to form our opinions – whether we are religious or not doesn’t change that fact. We still listen to our teachers, government, and experts because we want our views to be confirmed, we need people to help us fill knowledge gaps and tell us what information we should believe. Google is a bridge between all 3 types of authorities, throwing in a boundless library as an additional perk.
So the ultimate question is – if Google content is digital scripture and website creators the priests who create the scriptures, what would Google then be?
……….I can already hear the torches being lit.
I recently went to a tech talk in Manchester where a speaker introduced his topic with this – “We are now naturally urban animals” Or in other words, we’ve moved on from our rural origins, have long since walked out of the savannah and our chosen birthplaces are now among skyscrapers.
The hills are alive
We’d certainly be forgiven for thinking that we’ve turned our backs on our old ways and that we’ve evolved into concrete dwellers. As trends go, we have consistently been leaving our rural homes behind since the very first cities shot up. On average, 74% of all developed and 44% of all emerging countries are now urban.
But aren’t we forgetting something? Isn’t nature where our origins lie, isn’t it still our habitat?
Moving to the big smoke has always been about getting a job, finding new opportunities or leaving a ‘worse’ life behind. It’s never been about putting ourselves in concrete mazes away from nature, it’s just become a by-product.
There are also scores of studies that prove flora and fauna aren’t just pretty, they are integral for our health and sanity. Increased exposure to nature is directly linked to decreased levels of stress, depression and anxiety which often have a detrimental impact on physical health – which means we need to be near nature to feel better.
Our online spaces are, in theory, the most far-flung spaces from physical nature, and it is perhaps for this reason that we are constantly designing and coding with nature in mind. Perhaps we are unable to truly design or invent anything completely outside of our own viewpoint or experience and so logically our most high-tech inventions have their origins in something that already exists in nature.
Take the internet itself, which represents a spider’s web in its most simplistic form, and how our brains make connections in its most complex. Or if we think of ‘the Cloud’ it works in a very similar way to how we store memory.
You can link the structure of code to how soil works for living things, it creates strings of organic matter (or code) which forms connections and binds those separate connections to form more complicated organic structures. Even our phones are created to work in tandem with how we think, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to use them or understand how to extract information. Our smartphones sync so well with how we communicate and connect ideas that they now feel like an abstracted part of ourselves.
Our most forward-thinking robotic experts are also building biomimetic robots to either to look like us or to represent an animal or the best parts of lots of animals that already exist.
Let there be light
We are also slowly realising that the concrete gap between us and nature needs to be bridged with metaphoric gardens. Biophilic design, or designing with nature in mind, is a great practical example and is a trend that is moving at the speed of light.
We are quite literally bringing natural elements through our windows and into our internal spaces. Panoramic views, wood, indoor gardens, rooftop greenery, natural colours, open spaces, floor to ceiling windows and circadian lighting are all trendy examples. But biophilic design reaches far beyond architecture or office décor and has jumped right into the digital world.
Gone are the fluorescent colours and jarring navigation of the early noughties. Our websites and social media accounts are now designed with clean lines, simple navigation and fluid connections. We are creating open, light and welcoming digital spaces that mimic our old natural spaces.
SEO is also riding the trend. Most words that have a naturally meaning score highly on user retention and engagement. Words like social, open, organic, natural, green, local, sourced, community and space, are all prime terms for websites and branding, and are all systematically linked to nature and our roots.
Another great example is UX design, which basically foresees what is going to happen to our online behaviours and physical designs around those predictions. If you ask any UX designer they will agree that it’s paramount to create navigation from A to B, B to C and C to A in the most fluid possible way, because it is a sure-fire way to create a positive and productive user experience. It is because of this that internet spaces are now completely interlinked, just like our real lives because conversation and communication are naturally fluid and interconnected.
Our mass urban exodus also doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon. In 2050, 70% of the world will be urban. The challenge for the future will be adopting practices and developing innovations that truly merge nature into our physical and digital spaces, so that we create real urban jungles that are healthy for both us and the planet.
I think it would be naïve to think we can go back to a simpler time, but what we can do is use both the future and the past to create a balanced present where urban and digital nature more than just lovely a sounding paradox.
Sara is a freelance writer based in Manchester. She owns the commercial and creative content company Fraiche Ink, focusing on think pieces and marketing content.
Manchester is a city that has something about it. You can’t quite put your finger on it but it’s there, chatting in the old city pubs, brainstorming in basement warehouses, or weaving along the industrial streets. Northern city dwellers forever doing their own gritty, creative thing.
We first moved into the Northern Quarter because we wanted to be more central for our clients and get a Manchester post code for Bamboo. But in the end what we got was much more than an address, we got to live and breathe what the city is about and reflect that in our work. Breaking norms, doing our own thing, laughing about it and then breaking norms again. Creating something from the richness of the past and making it completely, inspiringly new.
Red Brick Road
In our mind, Manchester’s uniqueness, in part, comes from the fact that it was the starting point for the industrial revolution. To create such a global movement which transformed the planet’s future has to take a very unique way of thinking and some stubbornly forward-thinking guts.
But post-industrial Manchester was in danger of living in the shadows of its past and resigning itself to a very long concrete slumber. Luckily, Manchester’s never-ending love of music and unique art rose to the challenge and kept the creative candle burning, making sure the Mancunian spirit never really burnt out.
Then when Manchester’s time came again, purpose flooded back into our empty red brick buildings and made sure music wasn’t the only thing shining across our city. Warehouses were splashed with street art, Victorian mills adapted into creative spaces, and empty factories became digital hubs. The transformation happened when Manchester needed it most and made it that little bit more special.
Let me go my own way
This city is also in creative flow when it revives the past but doesn’t drown in nostalgia, when it isn’t afraid of blending the old and new by letting them clash and collide until they learn to be in each other’s company.
Manchester also doesn’t care about what is expected of it, and often rebels against that expectation. Which is also where our simmering hatred of most things from London comes from, and why the city quickly wriggled off its ‘Northern Powerhouse’ title – because it’ll most likely achieve the same thing but in its own way.
Even the architecture doesn’t care about what a city should look like. Towering glass structures sit next to elegantly decaying Georgian buildings, as do Tudor houses and concrete tower blocks. Manchester’s architecture is a defiance of standardised beauty and architectural norms, which is the perfect backdrop to what is happening on the streets. Heritage being reaffirmed with innovation. Creativity coming from the freedom of disregarding rules.
Family of strangers
Something we also love is that we work in an urban cosmopolitan city that still acts like a local pub. Stranger talk to each other at bus stops, laugh together in queues and chat about the weather in cafes. It’s this mix of innovation and genuine friendliness that creates the unexplained buzz flitting around the streets and helps to slow down the train to pretentious city living.
Working in the northern quarter, which acts like an urban village, has also helped us be more creative and productive just by being a part of something truly exiting. We are all talking, inventing, and creating an idea of a city together, and it’s inspiring to build and adapt to the times together.
Bamboo’s coffee adventures at Ziferblat, Edge Street
Coffee has been married into our lives for a very long time. From the first people that discovered the beans, to the millions of coffee shops across the planet. We just can’t get enough of the stuff.
In recent years, coffee culture has been working fervently underground. Coffee experts have been toiling away in backrooms to ensure that the coffee poured into our porcelain cups is lovingly cared for before we put coffee to lips. Experts, such as Sean from 92 degrees in Liverpool, concentrate on sourcing good quality beans and meticulously processing them into great coffee. The time, temperature, and nature of the roast all adds to why some brews beat the rest of the flock.
Good Coffee is also a staple for any urban co-working space, and very important to the average freelancers and remote worker. So when Ben, Marketing Manager at Ziferblat, invited us and other Ziferblat friends to a coffee tasting of the most expensive brew in the world, Gesha Village Coffee, we threw out the Nescaf’ and listened to Sean from 92 degrees with bated breath.
Freelance folk, Manc Made, MCRhookup and Fraiche Ink were also the resident coffee drinkers, on hand to taste the record breaking brew and listen to Sean, who explained the legend of Kaldi, or the Ethiopian goat that discovered coffee, and why Gesha Village sold at auction at an eye watering 85 dollars.
According to Sean, Gesha village has ideal natural conditions and ecosystem for making the best coffee in the world. The farmers also did something very unusual for the coffee world, they left the coffee plants alone and let them do their thing. Their gamble paid off when the beans went to market and broke coffee bartering records.
So is coffee ever worth paying £85?
All we can say is that tasting the best coffee in the world is like when you think you know what vodka tastes like, and then you try a good vodka and you realised you’ve been sipping on fuel for most of your life. Or more poetically, a bit like seeing colour for the first time, the colour of velvety brown.
Sharing is caring
Are we transcending traditional social media?
There is a lot of online buzz about whether social media has replaced traditional marketing and journalism. The short answer to this is yes in a fashion it has, and quite a while ago.
What is more importantly happening is that traditional social media channels are being completely overhauled in favour of one streamlined and integrated communication space.
The clever coders and designers, that have helped each social media giant rise to fame and cling to it, have adapted their platforms to their users by using social media analytics to track how their platforms are being used and then adapt them accordingly. Some platforms are even letting their code change organically with each end user. This means that we are quite literally evolving and transforming social media channels just by using them.
If humans are naturally social, and want social media that can give them the most rapid, easy access and logical way of communicating then the unfaltering end-point will be that separate social media accounts will be transformed by their very users who will need all the channels to be part of one global platform.
Welcome to my world
Social media works because it lets us connect to others better and helps us feel part of a network. The birth of social media is often attested to Facebook, but often the invention before the invention is the place you should be looking.
Myspace, in my opinion, was the grandfather of social media. It has all the hallmarks of all our slick 2017 social apps; you had your own personalised space, you could share your tastes, beliefs and most importantly connect and communicate with other personalised spaces. Myspace was infamously left out to dry because it wasn’t integrated enough, didn’t update fast enough for its users, and didn’t put ease of communication on the pedestal it should have been. In other words, it became a static space.
Then Facebook came along and truly started the concept of social media. It used the concept of myspace and elevated it to immediate communication and used our need for recognition and popularity within digital circles to set the web world on fire. It is not an exaggeration to say that Facebook changed the world, in the very least for the first Facebook generation.
Time for a change
What Facebook and all other major social platforms do well is that they understand that the world of social media is ‘adapt or die’. The user is fickle and will jump to another platform if it fits more with their lifestyle, viewpoint, and modern way of connecting. This has forced the social media channels to constantly react or face Myspace style extinction and so what we are seeing is a mass merge of unique social media features.
Like kids at the playground asked to share a bag of sweets and thinking that by taking half of another kid’s sweet they have more overall.
The list of examples is long but here are 5 that come to mind-
Instagram is becoming the place where you post your status via images (instead of content only on Facebook or even album sharing) You can also post on Instagram and instantly share on Facebook, twitter and Tumblr. Basically, making all three platforms one sharing space via Instagram.
Hashtags are no longer a Twittersphere phenomenon but can be used on any social media and searchable on google.
Instagram and recently Facebook now have ‘stories’ just like snapchat and even have Snapchat style video filters.
YouTube is testing community features to allow creators to share images and text (just like Facebook)
Facebook is trying to be the go to place for sharing stories, videos, and news articles (aka twitter and YouTube).
In their dogged quests to outdo each other, eat up the competition and remove the others individuality, they are inadvertently throttling towards one, open and integrated communication space. Soon all social media will have bitesize and immediately streamable/shareable video, image and content that you will be able to share over all social platforms at once to get the maximum impact.
This then brings about an unavoidable prediction – If all social media is reacting to the user and the user wants to be connected to all platforms at once then an elevated super social platform that transcends traditional social media channels is where we are heading.
And if that is hard to believe, think about if people in the 1960s would have believed how much journalism could change with the invention of an online social address book.
Sara is a freelance writer based in Manchester. She owns the commercial and creative content company Fraiche Ink, focusing on think pieces and marketing content.