05 August 2011

Can I Get Pregnant If I Yahoo Answers?

The Internet is many things to many people. Surely many people take it for granted. To others, it's just a tool; they can depend on it to do their job but it's just a means to an end. I think if anyone stopped to think about it while they're waiting for their cat video to finish buffering, they'd find that it's kind of amazing.  It's amazing that it exists at all and then the things that people have done with it are even more amazing still. I'll give Google a break and point at WolframAlpha. It's a magic answer-machine that can take very complicated mathematical formulas and natural language queries and spit out answers.

It's a tremendous wealth of information for free, at your fingertips. In that regard, it's a microcosm of the internet itself. It is also like the internet in that it can be used for less than noble reasons.

Like when I type in "awesome", I get a bunch of great trivia.

And a swear! I made the computer swear!

Optional Punchline: "Now I can go back to doing the NY Times crossword puzzle in pen!"

Obviously this is bordering on Watson-level computing power and it's free and accessible to any student fudging their way through a calculus assignment. If the Internet was your house, WolframAlpha would be the boudoir picture of your wife in the $600 custom frame you show everyone to make them jealous.

And while WolframAlpha can clearly make people jealous of your newfound crossword skills, sometimes we need internet answers with more substance.

"10 Across; 5 letters: Your virulent infection was the inspiration for the
1995 thriller Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman!"

Occasionally that need for substance manifests itself as an urgent, alarming yes/no question hit far and high to the internet's outfield. Occasionally, those questions get fielded by Yahoo Answers. Then someone drops the ball and I think that gets recorded as an error?

How about this: it's just a bunch of people inexpertly answering questions asked inelegantly.

Technically that first one is a statement.

You cannot answer those questions (or the 700,000 like them) with your computer.

Unless you have one of these with a USB connector at the other end.

So, in the absence of a USB Pregnancy Test (typed here for the inevitable copyright battles that follow million dollar ideas), the best answer to that question would be, "See a doctor." Unless it's Dr. Crossword from earlier, they'll probably know better than even the most seasoned Yahoo Answers answerer. And even if you did get your question answered by a doctor who also happened to be on the internet, I would follow up their answer with:

"Hey, shouldn't you be golfing!?" (Zing!)

On that note, let's dive into the shallow end and see who, exactly, is answering these questions. If I was writing a scholarly paper, my hypothesis would be "Not doctors." Let's test that hypothesis with "Can I get pregnant from..." and see who's out there and what insights they're sharing.

22 Down, 67 letters: Can I get pregnant from grinding?

To be totally fair the answers are voted on and in a way, curated. I'm sure this helps push the trolls out of the top spot and keeps the trips to Planned Parenthood down to a manageable amount.

It also serves to showcase the world's most talented teen obstetricians.

The problem is, the people asking these questions - questions they're terrified to have answered  - are desperately seeking assurance. They're vainly hoping that the internet will tell them everything is okay and they can carry on with their lives. Honestly, they probably know the internet is going to turn its back on them in their time of need. They're looking down at the sand and seeing one set of footprints and it's not because Internet is carrying them, it's because Internet abandoned them to watch cat videos. People who should know better are asking people who don't know any better for help. It's Nimrod from the Divine Comedy babbling incoherently at Gossamer.

Gossamer looks like he might actually have all the answers.

So really if the questions is, "Could this change my life forever?" the answer is "Ask literally anything else in the world." You're better off screaming at passersby or swearing at the cold, dark night.

Except if you're this guy you could probably go ahead and ask WolframAlpha:

You win this time, Yahoo Answers.

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