A Psalm for Google

Admittedly, there is almost nothing I can do on the Internet without Google.  I Google everything.  Sometimes, when I’m feeling lazy, I Google-search for websites even though I know their addresses by heart.  One of my new favorite things is to watch movies at home—especially old movies—with my smartphone in hand.  That way, I can Google the backgrounds of the actors and actresses or the origin of some obscure cinematic reference with ease.  It’s like a do-it-yourself Pop-Up-Video.

In any event, I love Google.  It does a lot for me.

This past weekend, it even got me entangled in an Oklahoma class-action lawsuit.  Here’s how it happened.

For the past couple of months, my TV has been behaving oddly. When you turn it on, it makes a lot of clicking sounds and cycles through on-and-off for about 30 seconds before it actually, finally, turns on.  It’s annoying, but not to the point of ruining my day, so I haven’t done anything about it.  Last week the missus and I were planning to watch something she likes and I hate — “Dance Moms,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” I can’t remember — when the TV began the aforementioned clicking/cycling routine.

At this point, my lovely wife suggested that I Google these symptoms.  And I promptly disregarded her.

Like Google can tell me why my TV is making strange noises.  Please!  It doesn’t know everything.

Oh, ye of little faith.

As whatever godawful show my wife was watching droned on, I needed a distraction.  I navigated to Google and attempted to diagnose my TV’s illness.  It would at least pass the time.  I went to the search bar, typed in the name of the manufacturer of my TV and the word “clicking,” and hit “Search.”  Almost instantaneously, Google returned dozens of sites talking about TVs like mine suffering from the same clicking-and-cycling issues.  Apparently, there’s a defect in some capacitors that causes this problem.  More importantly, for my own selfish interests, someone else had already litigated this issue on behalf of a class of plaintiffs—to which I happened to belong—and obtained a settlement that will provide me with a free repair or replacement.  Now that’s what I’m talking about!

This is fascinating on a couple of levels.  Literally, in the span of one minute, I went from being resigned about the weirdness of my TV’s clicking and cycling to hopeful about the free repair or replacement coming my way.  The only thing that separated those two perspectives was the fact that I ran a simple Google search.  Which was free.  As opposed to the value of the benefit that I received.  If I were to have paid for my own repair, it would have been at least $50.  Or, if I had bought another TV, it would have been 20-30 times that.  Perhaps the most important observation is that, in the not-too-distant past, this would have been impossible.  I mentioned previously that the class action settlement was obtained in Oklahoma state court.  Without Google, it’s likely that I never would have learned of the litigation or the settlement.  After all, the manufacturer had no way to know that I owned one of its TV’s and that I was experiencing a problem.  And I had no way to know that the problem I was experiencing was common to a lot of other people.  Google therefore supplemented a tremendous information gap in a way that was ultimately beneficial for me, the almighty consumer, but also—strangely—for the manufacturer.  Rather than talk trash about my TV and its clicking-and-cycling issues, I can talk about how the manufacturer fixed my TV and extended its useful life for several more years.  By informing me about the class action settlement and the opportunity for repair, Google was protecting the goodwill of the TV’s manufacturer in the eyes of its customers.  And I’m likely to buy another TV from that manufacturer in the future.

There’s no question that the Internet has been a transformative innovation, certainly with regard to economic issues.  But it also holds the potential to be transformative with regard to legal interests.  In the globalized world, regardless of where products may move geographically, it is now possible for individual owners to express their frustrations about those products in a virtual public environment, to become connected with each other’s opinions and experiences by simply by surfing the Internet, and incredibly, to opt in remotely to litigation and/or settlement from the comfort of their couch as a consequence of running a simple Google search on a random Thursday night.

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