Now that almost any factual question can be answered by googling the topic and ogling the results that pop on-screen within half a second, I usually find the information I need in a moment or two. But for a deeper kind of inquiry -- seeking out the biographical details of a well known figure about whom little is known -- I thought I might, for the first time, try riding the search engine all the way to the end of the line. With no idea how far the trip through 82,300 results would carry me, or how long it might take, I just hopped on board at Wikipedia. Clicking along through the sites, enjoying the scenery of the available images, I reached the bottom of the first page in a few hours and paused for the night.
On Day 2 / Page 2 I discovered a Spanish-language video vignette dramatizing the life of my Scottish character, and vowed I would never again content myself with Google's top most popular referrals. I got to the page bottom more quickly this time, and noticed that only the page numbers 1 through 10 were displayed there. Not until I had sped through the (repetitive) material on page 6, and prepared to click onward, did I detect the slight shift in destination. The page numbers now ranged from 2 to 11. Progress through just one more page shifted the range again (3 to 12), but momentum or inertia kept me pressing on. From a vantage point at the top of page 29, the realization finally dawned that, with ten links proffered per page, I still had 8,202 pages to go. A question naturally arose that Google could not answer: If I persevere to the finish, will the effort prove worth my while?
By then, in addition to a pleasing number of useful discoveries, including my Scottish immigrant's 1907 petition for American citizenship, I had also encountered a plethora of dead links, genealogies of unrelated people who shared her last (or even first) name, and careless repetitions of errors and apocryphal tales.
I quit there, of course. But I still find myself thinking down that long tunnel of possibilities, wondering what I'm missing.