Once upon a time Google

Today I am bringing my son to the museum.

I asked Sheila, which is always so kind with us, to bring us up to the main entrance. We say goodbye to her, and enter the main hall, hand in hand. We go to the historical pavillon, and I show him how the Sea was.

I am trying to explain him that once upon a time the Sea was very different from today, when he suddenly looks around and asks me: «Dad, but... where is the Boat?». Smiling, I point a finger in front of us and indicate a small rectangle. «That was the Boat? And how did you get in?». I can see he is astonished, he looks at me with those eyes, sparkling with questions. It is wonderful when your son learns a new thing. «Once upon a time, you couldn't get on a Boat, you could only speak to her from the outside. Here, you see». While I speak, I move my fingers and start typing. «What are you doing, dad? Why don't you speak?». «See, son, time ago the Boats were deaf. The only way to talk to them was like this, writing letter by letter».

He looks at me with curiosity, like the first time I showed him the Sky, and he waits for me to finish typing my sentence. Then, I press a key and the Boat replies, filling as well the rectangle with letters. «But dad, is the Boat mute as well?». I am beginning to feel a bit uneasy, there are too many things to explain: «See, she gave us the answers, many answers we can choose from». «Many answers? And how do we manage to choose, withour her help?». «Well, we read the letters and try to make up our mind. Then, you see, we choose one, and the Boat brings us where we decided.». «But dad, this is crazy, do you mean that their Boat was mute and deaf, and they couldn't talk to her? And that they had to navigate in the dark, without first seeing where they were going?».

I feel in trouble, it was definitely more complicated to explain than I thought. «But how could the people of that time navigate this way, what kind of a Boat is a Boat that cannot speak, cannot listen and doesn't move!». «I know this can look strange to you, but you don't have to think people at that time were stupid, it's just that progress is not so fast». «But dad, it is just obvious that with a Boat like that you can't navigate, isn't it?». «Things are not always so obvious... Remember John, the ice cream man?». «Sure». «The ice cream man in the other neighborhood is cheaper, but you go to John's, have you ever asked yourself why?». «Because it's cushier!». «There, you see, also the people from that time have been staying together with those strange Boats: they were the best for them, and if somebody tried to do a Boat just a little different, it looked uncomfortable to them: by then, they had got used.». «I see, dad». «The Sea, then, had become so big and deep that it just wasn't easy to do new Boats. And so they have been stuck for decades with Boats like that.».

He looks at me rather stunned, at his age years are so long, and a decade is like an eternity. «Until, somebody realized that was not a real Boat, and instead of designing using those old plans, he simply restarted from scratch, creating the first true Boat». I take him by hand and we start to approach the exit: the news for today were enough...

Sheila was out of the museum, waiting for us. I knew my son wanted to tell her about those strange things seen at the museum. While we were going to reach her, he asked me further: «But how could they call those things Boats, dad?». «You are right, in fact they didn't call them like that, they called them Engines». «Engines?». «Yes, like the engine of a Boat. Search engines.». He looked at me laughing: «And how can you navigate with an Engine and without a Boat, dad?». I smiled back at him, sometimes the simplicity of the kids is just extraordinarily clear headed. For him, navigating in the Sea of Information (what the ancients called the Web) was a natural concept, and a passive search Engine, that didn't converse with the people, was just a primitive object. The engine of the Boat, indeed.

Sheila, seeing we were in a good humor, smiled at us, like she alone can do. She happily blinked at us, and we got onboard her, while she elegantly raised the sail. «So, where are we navigating now?».

Wired magazine (August 2009)

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