I love Google Alerts. They’re a great tool for tracking the mention of different things online. I use them less as a way to learn about breaking news and more as a way to discover how people are talking about the future. But there are all kinds of things that are messing them up. Well, messing them up for me specifically.
Below, a small sample of my Google Alerts and the ways that people are being so inconsiderate as to write about things in ways that I don’t care about:
Blade Runner: Once a shorthand for a near-future dystopia — a version of Los Angeles filled with flying cars, giant videoscreen ads, and the questions surrounding robots and what it means to be human — this particular Google Alert is now mostly about that arsehole who shot and killed his girlfriend.
Hoverboard: This one is mostly just ruined by vaporware — companies and crowdfunders promising that they will make a real hoverboard if you’ll just give them enough money. Sometimes, the occasional hoax will get everybody’s hopes up too.
Time capsule: There are two things that ruin my Google Alert for time capsule. First, the Apple product of the same name. Everybody seems to have difficulty with it and want to know how to make it suck less via messageboard questions. Secondly, the real estate blogs love to use the term “time capsule” as a way to describe a house that feels like it’s from a particular era. That midcentury house is no doubt cool, but it wasn’t buried in the ground for 50 years, was it, Curbed?
Apocalypse: This one is generally pretty diverse and provides a helpful guide to whatever journalists, businessfolk, and rioters are panicking about that day. But there’s also a number of comic books that use the word, along with the upcoming X-Men film due out in 2016: X-Men Apocalypse.
Armageddon: Much like my alert for “apocalypse,” I keep this alert around to get a general sense of the world’s malaise, but also because I want to know when the end of the world is starting. Good to keep an eye on all that. Nothing yet, as best I can tell, though I suspect Nic Cage’s new Left Behind movie should be blowing up this alert in no time.
Flying car: I pay particularly close attention to this one, given how often we’re promised the flying car. But it certainly snags its fair share of Grand Theft Auto cheat codes and terrible car accidents.
Hilariously, not long after I wrote about the perennial flying car hype of Terrafugia, my Gmail started warning that their own alert about flying cars could be a scam.
Back to the Future: This alert is really a grab bag of anything-goes journalism. Most of the time that this phrase is being used it doesn’t even make grammatical or logical sense. Does your story have to do with something that happened in the past or will happen in the future? Why not use the headline, BACK TO THE FUTURE!
Utopia: UTOPIA is the name of a fibre network consortium in Utah and will soon be a reality show on Fox. But this one is pretty good at uncovering equal parts sincere vision for how we’d like to see the world and snarky commentary about people who may disagree with the author politically.
Utopian: This is a slightly more interesting Google Alert than “utopia” because it more often describes a way of thinking than a physical place. This one gets most mucked up by petty political fights that I could care less about — and strangely, ceiling fans.
Dystopia: This one has really blown up in the past couple of years with the torrent of dystopian young adult fiction that’s flooding the market. Everybody wants to be the next Hunger Games and everybody’s got an opinion about whether all these dark stories are harming our kids’ minds.
Minority Report: This alert used to be a great way to track gesture control technologies, real-world personalised advertising, and crime-fighting capabilities that verge on sci-fi. But Larry Wilmore’s new project is messing all that up. He’ll soon be debuting a new show called Minority Report (which I’m pretty excited for, by the way) after Stephen Colbert leaves Comedy Central to take over for Letterman.
Matt Novak: Yes, I have a Google Alert for my own name and yes, it’s mostly stories about the author/illustrator of children’s books like 2005’s Too Many Bunnies. I’ve never read it, but I have to disagree with the title just on principle. You can never have too many bunnies.
Picture: Cropped movie poster for Blade Runner (1982)