by Dana Jaye Cadman

Limitlessness and Impetus in Search & The Possibilities of Satiation

In the search for content, limitlessness means that we can search for art whilst and where-ever we please. And we expect to find exactly what we are looking for. It’s simple. I know what I want is out there. In a movie, a blog, a band, a poem whatever it is. I know that it has already been made and that I will be completely satisfied when I find it. What is problematic is access. How do I find what I want. Limitless content does not necessitate limitless avenues for access. This is how we have come to browse. As a community of consumers, we have become accustomed to the endless search for that exact factoid we are looking for.

It is the idea of limitlessness which has implanted and allowed to grow in me the unending hope that the perfect product must be out there somewhere. It started years ago with the On Demand menu. Knowing I had options beyond live television created an anxiety in me which did not allow me to settle on a program. I was unsettled always, ever-aware of the fact that there was something else, something quite possibly better for me to be watching and even when I finally did choose this or that show, I inevitably opened the On Demand menu back up in the corner, perusing my DVR menu and the Free Movies channel. There was no way to be complete. To simply watch was out of the question.

Back in the days of Napster, I used to type random words into the search box to find bands I didn’t yet know existed. It was a customized search, a filtered browsing, a way of limiting my results in an unpredictable way. Reducing the stream. Was my preteen self onto something? Should we search this way? Is it a legitimate process for choosing the products we use in our lives? How our art comes to us?

What role does randomness play? To what degree is the input of arbitrary words into a search box a tolerable and even a good strategy for finding what we are looking for? It may be that the starting point of a search is insignificant. Contrary to our expectations—our Google-enforced belief that it is our initial text input which determines the direction and thus the culmination of our search endeavors—it is our motivation for the search, our most ideal finale to the journey that determines the success of our searches and not the malaise of general satisfaction of a somewhat relevant group of top hits. We want the perfect product.

Some of the laziest suggestion systems, like tumblr, seem to have been developed in direct response to the anxieties that the On Demand menu revolution caused. Banks of pre-recorded materials, archives of songs, interesting webpages, are now dressed with systems which attempt to do the browsing work, perhaps an effort to keep me watching and not looking.

But I feel a dissatisfaction with such schema. I find that that the consumption of my answers, the end to my searches, the just watching of a television show, is not enough. I like to know what is next, what else I could be viewing or reading or learning. Sometimes I think I don’t even want to find something to watch. I would rather keep browsing.

While in the state of browsing, the consumer is temporarily satiated by the very possibility of getting what they want. The sensation of being without is suspended in favor of the imaginations of what it would be like to be perfectly fulfilled. What if, after browsing a store, I really did find the perfect sweater? In the perfect shade of green? And the right neckline? And all of that. And that means that while I am in the store imagining this perfect hypothetical sweater, I am, for a fleeting time, happy. My consumer experience is thus affected by this imaginary product more-so than any real sweater the store offers.

Invariably, I am disappointed with my purchase. Unhappy with the show I choose to watch. Dissatisfied with the genre of music or the blog I landed on. Nothing can live up to the limitless possibility that I was open to during my browsing state. Or perhaps the motivation of the figment sweater, which led me to the store, is not at all what I really needed to buy. We have all visited Wikipedia in search of say, the definition of a political term or went to IMDB to settle an argument about a cameo appearance in a TV movie. And so often that experience ends well beyond my acquisition of the knowledge I was looking for. So often I find a new Melissa Joan Hart movie (My Fake Fiance) that I didn’t know about or an introduction to a new word to drop in every foreseeable future conversation (“Astroturfing”).

Do I even want to satisfy the initial impetus that made me look? Do I prefer for the search to remain unfinished? Would completion belittle the journey? I wonder: does the very criteria I use to judge the success of a search need to be revised? I wonder if all of this is the real point, that I don’t know what I’m looking for when I go out looking. We don’t know what an answer looks like, just the new questions that are opened up along the way and the infinite imaginary answers to those questions.

So then how does one satiate browsing? When have we culminated the browsing state? When we find the information or the product that we thought we wanted? Or once we have come across a new subject to browse? Do I even want to find what I am supposedly looking for? And are we contemporary consumers unsatisfied once we stopped searching simply because we have stopped seeking to be satisfied? Simply because we have stopped searching? Have we pathologically adapted our pleasure centers to focus on what could be; rewired toward imagination, once we come upon the moment for actual consumption, are we doomed to vomit it right up?

And so, to return to the impulse of this article, is randomness just as good a filter as any for browsing? Does where we start our search matter even at all? When we don’t know what we are looking for, when we don’t know where we are going, why should it matter where we begin? Of course there are other ways to browse, ways to create a starting point which might more effectively narrow the results that follow. One is “related artist” browsing. News and video streaming and porn websites all utilize this technique. It means, if you like this, then you’ll also like this. There are playlists and links for webcircles and Wiki categories compiled by other people available based on geographic or aesthetic or mathematical similarities. There are featured tracks and news stories on home pages. Most read articles, popular tags and advertisements in commercial messages. But it seems any of these options are just as arbitrary. Each leads the consumer to an otherwise unorganized world of possible ending points.

I hope that nothing that I have asked in this post has been answered. Let it remain unresolved how exactly to carve out a path from the thick wood of information and entertainment within the internet and various applications. I would argue that maneuvering the search scape is if not all, than at the very least half, the fun. Perhaps the goal of the search engine is not to fulfill my original intentions for a search, what I thought I was looking for, but in reality to provide me with a set of new terms to define, bands to listen to, and opportunities to explore. When I have a question and I open a web browser in response, is what I am seeking truly to find my answer and then to close the window forever on my inquiry? Or would I rather find myself looking through a many-paned window, a multi-tabbed browser, into an infinite webspace of new questions—many tabs unseen but which have marked my path, closed before they may answer and ask more questions, the ghostly trails of learning, evidence of the search.

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