I can’t immediately discover whether this tool is currently available, but in 2010, Nicholas Carr cited a Google word cloud tool “that allows a reader to, as the company says, ‘explore a book in 10 seconds.'” ¹
Now, if it’s possible to explore a book in 10 seconds, it follows that spelunkers should be satisfied to float through a cave while they inhale a few bits of dust. Anyway, Carr’s conclusion is that, “for Google, the real value of a book is not as a self-contained literary work but as another pile of data to be mined.” – Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (© Norton, 2010, p. 165).
If Google intended to redefine what it is to read, i.e., if one is deemed to have explored by virtue of having scanned a “word cloud” that merely displays the most quoted words and phrases in a given book, then other assertions might also be true:
- “mining” the number of times the word “grace” is used is as important as knowing what grace is
- being able to read a concordance is equivalent to knowing the message of God
- possessing a tool that counts words in all the books written in the 1990s equates to a decade’s worth of intelligence
Carr offers, about the aforementioned Google tool, “It’s not a library of books. It’s a library of snippets.”
And that is frighteningly analogous to the way Christians tend to view and read scripture.
¹ “The Church of Google” is the title of Carr’s chapter from which the quotations come. I’m not one to be taken in by extremism, and though some of Carr’s assertions seem extreme at first, I don’t find them to be over-the-top. He seems careful enough to me. (Readers of this blog may find more from Carr at some point.) Some other rather concerning bits include that “Google has become a true believer in its own goodness,” and that the company is “in the business of distraction” — in other words, its “profits are tied directly to the velocity of people’s information intake.” Google aims, says Carr, for a “utopia of cognitive efficiency.” It is my suspicion that, to the degree Google is successful in this aim, humanity will be distracted from more lasting realities.