Software that loves too much

We all like friendly, helpful software, but at what point does user-friendliness go too far? Some fascinating studies are beginning to appear that show how software applications can, by usurping personal agency, subvert learning and narrow our field of view. I have a short essay on the topic, focusing on that most solicitous of software companies, Google, in the new issue of the Atlantic:

I type the letter p into Google’s search box, and a list of 10 suggested keywords, starting with pandora and concluding with people magazine, appears just beneath my cursor. I type an r after the p, and the list refreshes itself. Now it begins with priceline and ends with pregnancy calculator. I add an o. The list updates again, going from prom dresses to proxy sites.

Google is reading my mind — or trying to.


10 thoughts on “Software that loves too much

  1. Ken Sherwood

    Nick: Interesting article. Google suggest also seems to factor in personal search history, more useful but also more creepy. Noted the following typo ” At first you enjoy the hyperactive solicitousness. But then you begin to bridle.” I’m guessing it was MS Word and not Google who here suggested “d” for “st” in “bristle,” which is what I think you meant, if I can read your intent.

  2. Nick Carr


    Can’t “bridle” mean to show resentment or to rebel against a yoke?

    If my usage is wrong, it’s entirely my fault. I can’t blame technology for that one.


  3. Kevin Kelly

    Nick ends the piece with his comment about the ultimate Google-thing: “I can’t say I’m looking forward to it.”

    But I bet you will use it. A lot.

    There must be a name for this pathology.

  4. Petter

    Interesting that this predictive writing technology is one small example of what Cass Sunstein calls a a “nudge” – another is Michelle Obama’s Let’s move (see The parallel between Google and Government presents itself (again), and whether you define it as “solicitous” or “meddlesome” depends on your political point of view – libertarians bridle (yes) at the notion of governments using nudges, while a social democrat like me is happy to be helped along. The thesaurus (Roget’s, or the one in MSWord) is another example – the virtuoso writer Nicholson Baker has dismissed it as a “slatternly” book (can’t remember where), but for me it always seems to come up with a better word than the one I had in mind.

  5. Rógini Haas

    ‘I’m feeling lucky’ right?

    I don’t think any software can narrow our view. Is just because we’re lazy, we dont like to think, not too much.

    But is funny how google can do that really well for us.

    ‘I’m feeling lucky’ right?

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