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Google, Mon Amour


This is a story about how, after 15 minutes with the Internet and the Google search engine, I learned more than I did during a typical week of fifth grade. In a larger sense, it is a story about how Google lets me appear to be much smarter than I actually am.

I had just started reading a book called Souled American: How Black Music Transformed White Culture. I recognized the title as a play on the phrase "Sold American," but I realized I didn't know what that phrase meant or where it came from. So I did the only logical thing to do in the 21st century when facing the unknown: turn to Google.

Two seconds later, I knew that "Sold American" was a song by Kinky Friedman. Furthermore, the Internet infomed me that Kinky is running for governor of Texas (motto: "Why the hell not?").

So, I knew that "Sold American" is a phrase associated with auctioneers. I still didn't know what it meant, so I Googled "Sold American" and "Auctioneer." Which led me to Lee Aubrey "Speed" Riggs, from right down the road in Goldsboro. According to the North Carolina Agricultural Hall of Fame Web site, "Speed" was known as "the Voice of Lucky Strike" for his cigarette ads, in which he would perform his typical lightning-fast auctioneer's chant, ending with the trademark phrase ... "Sold American!"

OK, I get "sold" ... but why "American?" Ah. I had to get a little deeper into the Google results, but I finally found my answer. An article on entitled "Tobacco in Virginia" tells us that tobacco auctioneers would end their chants by announcing which tobacco company had won each auction. Thus, "Sold American" would signify a sale to Durham's American Tobacco Company, makers of Lucky Strike cigarettes and employers of "Speed" Riggs.

That evening's events make it even harder for me to imagine my life without the vast stores of information in the Internet, and the means to find and access them with Google. Ten years ago, the vague curiosity about the phrase "Sold American" would have just sat at the base of my brain like a stunned bumblebee until I either serendipitously stumbled upon the answer somewhere or forgot the question entirely. But now I know a little more about Kinky Friedman, Lenny Bruce, the economy of my native state, and a humble boy from Onslow County with only a sixth-grade education who was on the radio with Jack Benny. Plus I know that there actually is such a thing as the North Carolina Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Will I ever use this knowledge to make a buck or to better myself or humanity? Probably not. But I dig picking up these small artifacts of knowledge and culture and seeing how they fit into the mosaic of existence as a whole. Everything fits somewhere, if you look hard enough, with or without Google's help.

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