Tom Friedman’s New York Times column this Sunday discusses the U.S.-Israel relationship, and suggests, in short, that the U.S. should be paying less attention to the situation, and that would be better for all involved. He explains that, in fact, American politics is focused elsewhere right now, and he writes:
Of course, no one here will tell you that. To the contrary, there will surely be a new secretary of state visiting you next year with the umpteenth road map for “confidence-building measures” between Israelis and Palestinians. He or she may even tell you that “this is the year of decision.” Be careful. We’ve been there before. If you Google “Year of decision in the Middle East,” you’ll get more than 100,000,000 links.
First of all, it seems that someone fluent in the language of search engines and the Internet would say “100,000,000 results” or “pages,” not links. But anyway, you might be really impressed by this: Israelis should ignore platitudes containing the phrase “year of decision in the Middle East” because it’s just so darn common that Google finds 100 million instances of it. But wait — that’s the number of results you get when you google all of those search terms, not the phrase itself. The phrase itself, according to a search I just performed, turns up 8,120 results.
Anyone familiar with search engines knows that one has to put quotation marks around a phrase in order to get the results for that specific phrase. When Friedman googled year-of-decision-in-the-Middle-East, since Google removes popular words from its terms, he was actually turning up every page Google could find that contained the words “year,” “decision,” “middle,” and “east” (roughly speaking).
The sad conclusion here is that Tom Friedman, who has spent the last decade opining that technologies like the Internet and Google have changed the world, indeed, flattened it, himself has no idea how to use them.
(As an interesting aside, Friedman, an experienced foreign-affairs journalist if not an insightful commentator on technology and the world, actually may have known the origins of this phrase, which I didn’t. It seems to have been first used as the title of a 1956 article by Middle East expert Richard H. Nolte in the Yale Review, and then-new Egyptian president Anwar Sadat appears to have used the term repeatedly to describe the year 1971.)