At the Market Research Information firm I talked “shop” with a Certified Searcher. Searchers searched the Pyramid Database like bees collecting pollen for Executive drives.
Perhaps I too could learn art of the search. Perhaps I too might find some thing.
“Time brings data,” said The Searcher, a woman of early, fierce middle-age. “Trajectory of information. Got to keep track of what the citizens are consuming. Immense! I preside over a mere twig on the Tree of Knowledge. Or rather, Tree of Information.”
No true knowledge, no wisdom. Information, samplings of the what, but not the why or wherefore. Whence, but none substantial. Prune The Tree.
“Oh, well, you know, it works like it works,” said The Searcher. “It’s information, after all. Ineluctable.”
Happened happenings. Ghosts of real.
“Remember when you were young? So does the Database. The Pyramid 2.0 Database remembers everything about you but knows nothing.”
No Searcher knows beyond a small swatch of tree. Immensity even in that. The Big Picture beyond scope of duty. No clearance, no closure. To ask a Searcher about the Database would be to ask a Citizen about The Nation. Their own little spot, generalizations about the whole informed by Big Media, guess-work, but really, what did anyone know? Not knowledge, information. How They kill curious. Befuddle with suspicion: secrets originate in our tiny, crammed skulls. This Searcher, what did she know?
“Only my duties relative to certain demographics handled by The Firm,” said The Searcher. “Nothing, really. I process. Fetch and enter. Process. Sales Executive wants to know about particular habits of a particular class of individual related to a particular lifestyle related to a particular product etc. They ask, and I retrieve.”
Not knowledge, info. Data. Trajectory of happenings, variables used and reused. History encrypted and condensed.
“Data is never lost or erased. Perhaps by accident from a particular terminal, but the entire Pyramid Database is paralleled and mirrored. Every bit and byte is copied, multiplied and stored in various locations. Numerous interpretations. No data is the same data. Depends on its function, its relevance to a particular situation. Situations determine meaning. Otherwise, what? Just characters and symbols. Not even. Shapes, designs, hieroglyphs. Nothing.”
“Nothing,” I repeated absently.
She took offense.
“What do you want from me? I’m a Searcher. I worked and studied to attain this status. I know my section of the tree. I’m important, very important, to advertisers, product marketers, the sales process itself. Nevertheless, I’m just a Searcher. A worker bee. I know what I know, but I don’t really know it, for I am never apprised of the context in which the data I invoke is used. Circumstance is Everything and All. The great empirical empty. Forgotten as soon as retrieved. On to the next search. That’s what they taught me when I began my studies. Standard Operation Procedures of The Search. What we find is irrelevant. To us. Concerned with pure technique of scrutiny, symbolic language, the arcane grammar and expressions that enable us to conduct successful hunts, make quick connections so information can be summoned and released to The Marketers and Sales Executives who infuse data with meaning. I exist to find. They tell me what to find, I find it. It means nothing. To me. I don’t even read the data as natural language. The symbolic language of the search precludes curiosity associated with natural language, human language, speech, writing. We translate Executive requests made in natural language to the symbolic code of search, and when we find what we find, though it will have subtle shades of meaning for the Firm and its clients, our quarry consists of cold code, meaningless outside the hunt. So if you asked me to find an apple, I would translate “apple” into the code of search (“the quest,” we call it among ourselves), and though what I find might relate to fruit and commerce and dietary fiber and whatever meanings you were looking for, to me it would merely call up notational bits regarding your directive. I would have everything you could possibly need to know, yet at the same time know nothing myself, other than that I successfully processed your summons for “apple” using the protocols at my command. There is no translation at my end. I see the data as the machine sees it. Human meaning and consequence are not my task. Do you understand? You will find nothing from me because I know nothing but the protocols of Pyramid 2.0. The Database generates the search product which I hand off to a translator whose function is to convert it back to natural language for The Marketing and Sales Executives. If I were to transpose it myself, which I could easily do, it would be a breach of security, outside my responsibilities. I could get fired. I must pay no attention. Zero. Nada. Nil.”
“But, how can you –?” I began, before she cut me off.
“That is what translators are for, to make data meaningful in human terms. One must know translation protocols to elicit meaning. Also, there is this: each branch of the tree uses a distinct language and notation. I trained for the language of Household Goods and Services, and I have levels of permission to make system calls to other branches that will be interpreted as protocols I understand and returned to me for processing. But I could never go to another branch, say, Feminine Hygiene Products, and interpret data on my own.”
I had no idea the mechanics of Pyramid 2.0 were so abstruse. So many protocols, so many branches on the Tree of Data. The Marketers made visible what one could never hear. Protocols, codes, synthetic, full-lettered languages with “database dialects,” and “Creole scripts.”
“What if I wanted to search?” I asked.
“You? A lay consumer? Well, first there’s two years of rigorous schooling. If you pass, and if your grades are high enough, a company might—”
“No, no. I mean, have a search done for me.”
“You’d have to be affiliated with a major corporation, unless you were a very, very wealthy man. The going rate — hiring translators, getting a government license, coders, searchers and god know what all — runs well into the millions.”
“What if it wasn’t a product search, but a person search? A security-related matter. Like a missing person?”
“Then you’re dealing with The Government, Deary. Best of luck with that!”
I’d hoped to learn some small thing about how information is processed, recorded, duplicated, refined in The Database. Knowledge beyond ken of knowing, knower, known.
The Searcher returned to the secrets of The Nation’s House-hold Goods and Services.
I lingered, briefly, to watch her fingers skip about her keyboard with considerable speed and dexterity.
Then I left, none the wiser for my troubles. Perhaps a bit more informed.