An article in today's New York Times discusses how Google queries can anticipate the rise in reported flu outbreaks and beat the forecasts of the CDC, sometimes by weeks at a time.
A similar technique could be used to track intellectual activity through Google queries. A recent article in The Atlantic suggested that using Google is making us stupid, but didn’t suggest what to do about it or how we can all get on board. We have known since the early 1970s that there is a correlation between the rise of reported flu queries and intellectual activities. Sometimes, the rise in temperature, the muscle aches, and feelings of nausea due to the latter are attributed to the former.
Using the data gathered from Google searches, we can anticipate an increase in intellectual activity before it occurs and take steps to prevent it. While there is currently no preventive vaccine or cure available for intellectual activity, a few basic steps of mental hygiene can reduce the severity of the outbreak:
1. An outbreak of intellectual activity often is preceded by a discussion of the works of any of a number of scholars, including Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, Walter J. Ong, Neil Postman, Lewis Mumford, Alfred Korzybski or Suzanne Langer.
This may be followed by secondary discussion of Paul Levinson, Lance Strate, Robert Logan, Joshua Meyerowitz or James Carey. Should you encounter a group discussing any of these authors, immediately change the topic to sports, the weather, politics or religion. A good lead in is: "Yes, technology may have influenced the course of human evolution, but weren't weather patterns, available raw material resources and the ineluctable modalities of warfare more significant?"
2. While there is no evidence that intellectual activity can be picked up on toilet seats, it is advisable to always have a supply of alternative reading material available, including old issues of Consumer Reports, copies of Mad Libs or almost any graphic novel, except any by Douglas Rushkoff or Neil Gaiman.