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Google Flu Diagnosis: Clustered atomization of Symptoms

“Ginsberg and Mohebbi explain that Google’s “model tries to filter out search queries that are more likely associated with topical searches rather than searches by those who may be experiencing symptoms.” Thus the spike shown in the graph [April 19 – 25] on the Experimental Flu Trends for Mexico Web page should correlate with actual flu activity rather than searches prompted by worry.”

–  Information Week

Google has made available “for the world” the search data that surrounds the outbreak of the dreaded, humanity-threatening Mexican Swine Flu (otherwise named), part of a contribution announced last November. This particular flu brings together the vast confluence of expressive connectivity which marks out our world village of intimacies. News programs post updates of great theatre, practically begging for a disaster so as to ensure rating spikes (symptoms = ratings), as the “conception” of the disease spreads like ideological wildfire; while the actually flu, yet very deadly, alerts us to how physically proximate we truly are, as transmissions body to body, leap borders, cross classes, and trace the planet. Despite its model filters, Google brings these two phenomena, the conception of “flu” and its symptomology, as “real time” data for related searches are expressed in mappings that seem to photograph both mind and body as “real” as silver halides suspended in gelatin catch the light from our loved ones. The idea is that Goggle has been able to in some sense literally see the flu spreading in the way that one might be able to see a frost spreading from space, as people becomes sick, become concerned and search for their symptoms on the internet.

Besides the connectivity issues – the laminates of activity layered in epistemological sedimentation that create our pictures of what IS – how does this new diagnostic, modeling tool of Google impinge upon or  free us? When we Google anything, it is intriguing to think that we are entering pixels of information into a vast reservoir of sociological data. Real time desires for information will be linked to public events with more precision that ever before, but as well, the neat pictures captured will likely in their very vividness obscure any number of excluding factors. The “picture” will shape who is represented, and policy towards them. Never before is it more important to Google, it seems. Of course, social monitoring, in particular under the metaphor of health concerns, carries its darkside.

The data-picture of the desire for information. What if we could “anonymously” record the time and place of every page turned in every book and pamphlet read in the Dutch Republic in the mid 1600’s? In France during the late 1700’s? What is this new picture of humanity? And, does not this mediation put mind and body into every greater proximity to each other (if we ever thought that that was possible), with greater speed than ever? As the notions of events, and events themselves race across braided to each other…

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