Can You Go A Day Without Google? Google marked its 10th birthday on Sunday. In honor of the day, writer Rob Dubbin decided to see if he could go 24 hours without using the search engine. His article "Just Let Me Check One Last Thing" appeared Sunday in the Washington Post.
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Can You Go A Day Without Google?

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Look up a word, find directions, mark a date on your calendar, check your email - 10 years ago, you'd have to go to any number of different Web sites to do those things or even, gasp, use pen and paper. Today, you can do all of those things on Google and of course, much more. Yesterday was the search engine turned everything engine's 10th birthday and writer Rob Dubbin decided to mark the day by not Googling anything for 24 hours. No maps, no Gmail, no calendar, documents or photos and he wrote about it in yesterday's Washington Post. We also want to hear from you. What was the moment when you realized you were hooked on Google? Lots of us use Google to search or for maps or for email but are you an extreme Googler? Tell us your story. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Rob Dubbin is a writer for the "Colbert Report" and he joins us now by phone from his office in New York. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. ROB DUBBIN (Writer, "Colbert Report"): Hi, Neal. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And no Google for 24 hours, did you make it or let me ask how long did you make it?

Mr. DUBBIN: Not even close. I made it around 13 hours before it caught me the first time. It was - it ended up being more like 55, 60 hours without Google or attempting to go without Google.

CONAN: And caught you the first time?

Mr. DUBBIN: Yeah. Actually it was - I thought it was going to be easy because I knew I could avoid my email for a day. I've done it before and I figured I could just switch my default search engine and my browser to, you know, Yahoo or something like that.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Mr. DUBBIN: Yahoo is what I chose. But, it was very surprising and a little bit unnerving how quickly it caught up with me. I reserved a Zip Car - one of...

CONAN: Oh, one of those rental cars you can rent by the hour.

Mr. DUBBIN: Yes. And they very helpfully have a map that pops up when you reserve your car, but it's a Google map.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUBBIN: And so that was - surprisingly sinister when it popped up.

CONAN: Those maps that Google provides, I mean, they are so useful but they're so ubiquitous now.

Mr. DUBBIN: That's true. You can't avoid them. It's - they're by far the most popular which means they are by far the least avoidable.

CONAN: And now, of course, Google is not only a service, it's a Web browser of it's own.

Mr. DUBBIN: Yeah. If I wanted to be really strict with myself, it would have been hard for me to log into a lot of Web sites where I have accounts, because that's - I mean, I have a gmail account and that's my ID. For once, like I thought it was forbidden for me to type in the name of one of their products, I would have had a real problem, I think.

CONAN: Mm. The odd thing about Google is that all of this is free.

Mr. DUBBIN: Yes. That's how they get you. Mr. DUBBIN: Yeah. You know, they give us a service in exchange for letting us use it. They're arguably the most successful voyeurs in history. Mr. DUBBIN: You know I think at some point we all fear that. That that's what's happening. We're certainly, you know, building a kind of dependence on it even though it's avoidable. If you're going to use the Internet, you're going to run into it eventually.

CONAN: You quote, the great horror writer H.P. Lovecraft in your piece. The most merciful thing in the world I think is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. That of course an excerpt from "The Call of Cthulhu."

Mr. DUBBIN: That's right.

CONAN: And of course, Google does precisely that. CONAN: In the '20s. You also write that you as a child wished that you'd had a magic watch that could answer all of your questions, and now you do.

Mr. DUBBIN: That's true. I don't know about all my questions. Then I sometimes get the disturbing feeling that I'm answering questions for somebody else.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Maybe not ours. At least we're asking them in public.

Mr. DUBBIN: Yeah, I know. And it's interesting how these things, you know, when you can find anything that everyone's ever asked for it, the questions do tend to be answered somewhere.

CONAN: So, how much do you think that Google does know about you?

Mr. DUBBIN: Well, they know a lot about a series of random numbers that represent me and I don't think - I believe them as far as they don't connect their data about me with who I actually am.

CONAN: Sure, yeah.

Mr. DUBBIN: But you know - well, you know, one day.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. DUBBIN: Until I - I'm glad I've never written an article speculating as to their intentions because then it really has something against me.

CONAN: We're talking with Rob Dubbin, a writer for the "Colbert Report" about his attempt to de-Google himself. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call at npr.org. That's, of course, our website, nothing to do with Google but you might be connected somehow, anyway. Give us a call at 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. Yes, you could use your Gmail account. Matthew joins us on the line. Matthew with us from Phoenix, Arizona.

MATTHEW (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Matt.

MATTHEW: Hi there. Yeah, our family members and I tried giving up Google for Lent.

CONAN: Oh, that's a month.

MATTHEW: No, that's six weeks.

CONAN: Six weeks.

MATTHEW: Worse than that. And yeah, I mean to try doing Yahoo, Lycos, (unintelligible) but it just doesn't work. There's only one and yeah, our Lent and gave up. I mean, I'm trying to explain - well, giving up things for Lent is not so simple as giving up chocolate or you know, whatever else other silly things like that because there's greater meaning to it. And since it no longer fits the bill of what Lent was about, we decided - well, trying to start Googling away, so.

CONAN: And how long did you last?

MATTHEW: I think it was almost a week, so that's- I've never tried anything so stupid(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And what was it that finally broke you, Matthew?

MATTHEW: Well, probably something to do with school. You know, that and the combination of Wikipedia is very dangerous, you know.

CONAN: The two, in combination, are very convincing aren't they?

MATTHEW: You know, somehow, after six hours you go - wind up looking at, you know, 19th century Russian war art, you have to back off for a second.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MATTHEW: Where - whoa, where am I?

Mr. DUBBIN: If it weren't for Google, we wouldn't know that Russia had our art in the 19th century.

CONAN: Oh, yeah?

Mr. DUBBIN: No, I don't know whether that's true.

CONAN: Matthew, thanks very much for the call and good Googling to you.

MATTHEW: Thank you, thank you.

CONAN: We appreciate it. As you're writing your piece, when you go to Google for information, we now tend to trust this information almost implicitly.

Mr. DUBBIN: Yeah, it's true. I at least usually look for two or three people to have, you know, corroborated whatever it is I found, but from there, it's - especially that some of it doesn't have a primary source readily available. It's pretty easy to just trust and move on.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail from Audrey in Jackson, Wyoming. My friend's son asked her when she was little and she was learning to type on a typewriter, of all things, how did she Google?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We all got a chuckle out of this. There used to be things called encyclopedias. Yes, indeed.

CONAN: Let's see, if we can get another caller on the line and this is Becca. Becca with us from South Bend in Indiana.

BECCA (Caller): Hi.

Mr. DUBBIN: Hello.

BECCA: I was just wondering, I wanted to comment on how ego-shattering Google can be as I use it to settle many daily arguments in my life.

CONAN: Oh, give us an example.

BECCA: Well, one day somebody - we're listening to Steely Dan. It's Steely Dan song came on the radio and they said, oh do you know that Chevy Chase used to be the drummer of Steely Dan? And I said, that's absolutely absurd. I wouldn't believe it for a minute, and I Googled it and I Wikipediaed it as you've mentioned earlier and you know, there was my ego, laying all over the floor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And of course, you learned that Chevy Chase is in fact a town in Maryland?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BECCA: What's that?

CONAN: It's in fact a town in Maryland.

BECCA: Yeah.

Mr. DUBBIN: People have always admired him for his high production values.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So, Chevy Chase, of course, was a drummer at one point in Steely Dan.

BECCA: Yeah, back in his college days. So - and it's just any trivial thing that comes up. You know, it's just so easy just to prove someone wrong or prove yourself wrong, in some things.

CONAN: Just think, if he stuck with it, he'd still be working.

BECCA: He might be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Becca, thanks very much for the phone call. I appreciate it.

BECCA: Uh huh.

CONAN: As you think about the amount that Google knows about us, as you say, we have to believe that this is relatively benign. And for the fact of the matter, as you're writing your piece, when they send us those tailored ads that are supposed to strike us exactly where our commercial interest lie, nine times out of ten they're way, way off.

Mr. DUBBIN: You know, in my darker moments I think of that as the false sense of security policy.

CONAN: Ah, they're doing that so you're getting ads for the Thigh Master because they're trying to put you off.

Mr. DUBBIN: And you know, and it's for every ad you don't look at, they know you didn't look at it because they saw that you saw it.

CONAN: That's just going to make that next one for discount Godiva even more effective.

Mr. DUBBIN: Yeah. I also ate a lot of chocolate while I was writing messages for comfort.

CONAN: Just for comfort. So - and did you order that chocolate online?

Mr. DUBBIN: Yeah. They just popped up next to every email that I sent.

CONAN: Let's get Suzanna on the line. Suzanna with us from Farmington Hills in Michigan.

SUZANNA (Caller): Yes, hi. I use Google every day and absolutely rely on it. I'm a teacher for an online university and I use it to catch plagiarism in my students and it's totally phenomenal.

CONAN: How does it work?

SUZANNA: Well, I find a paper that is suspicious and I take a phrase. I copy and paste it into the Google search bar and it almost instantly locates the source of the plagiarism.

CONAN: So, if a student submits to you a paper that begins, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

SUZANNA: Exactly. I've had papers that were, you know, one paragraph was completely from the New York Times and the second paragraph was 100 percent from Foreign Affairs, and you know, I'm able to find it in three minutes.

CONAN: I'm really glad they didn't have Google when I was a student, Suzanna.

SUZANNA: I know. It makes plagiarism somehow easier, but it also makes it easier to catch.

CONAN: Thanks very much. In fact, we managed to Google your piece, Rob Dubbin and it was in fact written by Mark Twain.

Mr. DUBBIN: Oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUBBIN: Yeah, I've got his complete manuscripts as a birthday present a long time ago and I guess it's just rubbed off.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Suzanna.

SUZANNA: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Rob Dubbin who wrote a piece called "Just Let Me Check One Last Thing," about his attempt to wean himself off Google to celebrate that search engine's 10th birthday. You're listening to Talk of the Nation, from NPR News. And let's get to Amy on the line. Amy is with us from Temecula in California.

AMY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Amy.

Mr. DUBBIN: Hello.

AMY: Hello. How are you? Well, I'm a writer and I've got to tell you, Google is like crack for writers because it's so addicting that I start writing about or researching something and then just get off on major tangents. And now, with iGoogle, which I can pull all these cool little widgets like how to speak Yoda and you know, writer's block and different things like that. And I spend more time Googling than I do writing, so that's a real pain.

CONAN: How to speak Yoda? It is a writer you are?

(Soundbite of laughter)

AMY: I know, it's just one of those little things that when you really got a brain block and you're trying to get through something - sometimes you joke of how Yoda would say it, maybe the force helps you a little bit.

CONAN: Thanks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: This is how we spend our time, is it? Kind of makes Battleship look like a pretty intellectual exercise.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AMY: Yeah, well they have this really cool tool on the iGoogle that you can - you know, get an opening line idea, sort of meld different things together and you can go off on a tangent.

CONAN: Have you ever tried that, Rob?

Mr. DUBBIN: I haven't. I didn't know this existed. I've actually - it's just like you told me there was a guy by the docks, you know, selling a hit for for five dollars or something like that. This is dangerous.

AMY: Well, I spend a whole day or two of good writing time, finding all of the cool widgets on my iGoogle instead of actually writing, so.

CONAN: The amount that writers will go to procrastinate before they actually sit down to write is - I once had the habit of I had to finish the New York Times crossword puzzle everyday before I would sit down and write. And of course there were a lot of Saturdays I didn't write at all.

(Soundbite of chuckling)

AMY: Well, don't even get me started about blogging, because blogging is writer's crack, too. So, it's instant - what I call instant artification. It's instant gratification writing and it takes me away from actually working on what I'm supposed to be doing.

CONAN: Amy, good luck to you.

AMY: Thanks a lot. Bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Rob, do you think there's going to be a 12-step program pretty soon for Googling?

Mr. DUBBIN: It would have to occur in real life and you know, in a colony in Vermont somewhere where they don't have broadband and you know, checking the internet takes 30 minutes at a time. I think it's too easy to slip back into it. And you really - since Google has become so much more than just a search engine, if you really do want to avoid that, you have to really go out of your way to avoid it. I thought I was going out of my way, but it found me.

CONAN: So, it would have to be a combination of like (unintelligible) and dial up.

Mr. DUBBIN: Yeah, the web would be a pretty naked place if you actually blocked traffic from Google's domain. It would be weird. It would be like, you know, half the buildings disappearing or NPR without flute music.

CONAN: Let's get Anna on the line. Anna is with us from Denver, Colorado.

ANNA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

Mr. DUBBIN: Hello.

ANNA: So, my problem with Google is - well, I work for a cell phone company and has since gotten a BlackBerry. And I have Google, I have everything from Google on my BlackBerry and even in my spare time, if I have 10 minutes to myself, I will sit there and just play with Google. I'll play with my iGoogle and find different - like new quotes and different games to be able to put on my iGoogle. We show it to people, we've been addicting people to Google every day, you know, since I've been working for this company. But it doesn't matter what I'm doing. If I have five minutes myself, sitting there, waiting for a doctor's appointment, it doesn't matter. I will sit there and just Google things that I've talked about during the day, or something that I've told somebody that I want to make sure was true. I use it even when I'm just sitting there playing with my kids and want to show them something. I use it for everything and I can bet if I were to do what your guest is doing and trying to go without Google for a day, I don't think I could get out of bed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But you could probably Google and find a way to do it.

ANNA: Exactly. You know what? I could probably find some coping techniques on Google. There's no doubt about it. But yeah, working for a cell phone company and selling Smartphones to people, I will show them where my Google is and my Google maps that I have on it and all of the different icons that I have on my Smartphone, so that - it's actually a good way, a good selling technique, too because so many people are addicted to Google. And knowing that they can carry it around with them is a pretty good selling tool.

CONAN: Anna, I'm going to say something terrible. You're an e-nabler.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANNA: That's right, I am. There's no doubt about it. You know what? I should probably get stock in Google.

Mr. DUBBIN: You're that crack dealer the other...

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. DUBBIN: Wass talking about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANNA: That's exactly right. That's exactly right.

CONAN: Anna we're -

ANNA: People come in to fix their phones and stuff because they need their fix.

CONAN: Anna, we'll let you get back to your BlackBerry.

ANNA: You know what? I will. I'm actually on it right now.

Mr. DUBBIN: I'm really sorry to have taken you away from it for a couple of minutes.

CONAN: Here's an email from Jim in Syracuse, New York. I'd call in but I'm too busy looking at Google News. Rob Dubbin, thank you very much for your time.

Mr. DUBBIN: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Rob Dubbin is a writer for the "Colbert Report." His op-ed ran in yesterday's Washington Post and he joined us by phone from his office in New York. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. We'll have to Google that. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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