What we told google about Switzerland.

ZHDK - MAS Spatial Design
November 2012

in collaboration with Michele D'Ariano


Why this book?
It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find a definition accurately describing the complex reality a country stands for. If this country is fragmented and full of contrasts, and its populations tends to emphasize the differences that distinguish the minorities it is made of rather than highlighting the common grounds, the goal becomes almost impossible to achieve.
Maybe these are some of the reasons it is so complicated to find a simple definition for Switzerland. In fact, every attempt to find an easy answer to the question of how to describe this country quickly becomes a cliché about mountains, cheese and chocolate.
The truth is that in reality, in Switzerland like in the rest of the World, is rapidly changing, and what has been relatively stable and quiet until now, is moving fast forward towards an unknown future.
A static definition of a society has become an obsolete concept. The flux of information coming from the media is constantly accelerating, changing our perception of the reality almost on a daily base.
Internet has become the one database not only containing our knowledge, but also classing it in a constantly changing order of importance. In this rating, some elements are constants, remaining stable for a long time, others appear suddenly and quickly become extremely important, just to fade away after a short period of time. There is almost no remembrance of these changing trends in the collective memory, with the “right now” becoming “it has always been like this” and thus creating a strange and fluctuating social identity.
With such premises, relying on our memories or impressions in order to try and define a complex country like the Switzerland is not accurate. What we want is a tool that “measures” Switzerland, a method using an automatic instrument, in which the personal opinion of the researcher cannot influence the results.
Google is the most used Internet search engine worldwide. It is so successful because of its extremely efficient algorithms, constantly analysing the entire web in order to update its database of information. It could be considered as the definitive tool to analyse our world.
Google is seen as a sort of wise entity, knowing the answer to every question. Even though we despise it as a kind of Big Brother, it is not the “omniscient superior creature above us willing to superimpose its visions” we think it is. What Google knows, is what it learns from us. Its suggestions are based on users trend statistics. The more a topic is searched for by the users, the higher is its rank calculated by Google.
This procedure creates a perpetual feedback process between Google and its users. It could be said that far from telling us something new Google is just repeating us what we already know.

Then what is the point in using Google as an instrument to describe a society?
Thanks to its perpetually updated status, Google is the perfect mirror showing the constantly changing portrait of society caught in the moment of “here and now”. The picture it reflects is raw data, without critical depth or cultural recognition. Instead of being a weak point, this is exactly the quality of the material we look for. Being unprocessed, not filtered by any tool, the resulting image offers to the patient observer the full spectrum of subtle nuances and unexpected surprises of real life.
Long repetitions and obsessive themes are abruptly interrupted by shocking or curious facts, with both repetitions and surprises creating a unique impression on the reader.

This book wants to shows two experiments carried out using the autocomplete tool of Google.

The first one investigates the effects of time on a country’s identity.
In Google Diary, the first 10 autocomplete suggestions for the word “Switzerland” and “Swiss” in the four official Swiss languages (German, French, Italian and Romans) plus English as the international language of the internet were transcribed every day for a month. The
Change is almost imperceptible. The image of Switzerland shifts in slow motion

The second one, Google Encyclopaedia, is thought as a sort of internet compendium of knowledge.
Letter by letter, the whole array of suggestions completing the world “Switzerland” in four languages is diligently transcribed until the third grade of depth, creating an overwhelming list of more than 10'000 words theoretically covering all the possible topics related to Switzerland.
Additionally 22 pictures illustrate themes extrapolated from the list as a sample of the huge amount of topics.

What does this book want to say?
This book is not meant to be a real scientific study, even if it was created with a strict logic method. The real aim of this publication is to question our own perception of identity, using Switzerland as a case study. The beauty in this work lies in its Zen-like attitude. Instead of offering an easy and stereotyped answer to the question “What is the real identity of Switzerland?” this books offers many possible answers through a method that requires plenty of time, allowing to get lost in the multitude of sub-themes opened by the main search.