Google’s newest tool seeks to make our current news hellscape a little more bearableAugust 21, 2018
Trying to keep up with the news might be aspirational, but these days, it can also be depressing. Between our impending ecological disaster, ever-rising racial and class tensions, sexual harassment accusations, and a government more suited for reality TV, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of terrible stuff out there. Google’s attempting to tackle this fatigue with a new tool for its Assistant that makes meaningful good news easier to find.
Designed to dole out a daily digest of positive stories simply, users can now just ask Google Assistant to “Tell me something good.” In Google’s terms, the company says many of us are wading in a “hope gap” — the idea that the more you focus on problems rather than the solutions, the more prone you are to feel fear and anxiety. The hope gap makes it easy to get trapped in a place where you can’t problem-solve.
Good news in the context of the Assistant isn’t uplifting empty calories à la Upworthy, but rather news that is focused on positive change happening out in the world. Google calls this “solutions journalism,” and it is meant to spark dialogue about how to make things better, rather than wallowing in how everything is terrible. For example, “good news” includes stories like how a university eliminated achievement gaps between white and black students, and how Iceland used unique tactics to curb underage drinking.
The undertaking is being spearheaded by Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that showcases potential methods of solving issues in the news items that it covers. It is an organization that has partnered with newsrooms like NPR, Huffington Post, and PBS to spread best practices for its optimistic brand of journalism, and 17 different universities use a SJN-specified curriculum. As an example of its successes, the SJN details an occasion when a newspaper motivated an entire community to decrease its rate of infant mortality.
The initiative falls in line with wider overtures across various tech companies that want to fix or improve the way we connect with each other on the internet. Both Facebook and Instagram now have tools that help you manage your time on social media, while Apple has made it easier for people to micromanage time spent on phones. Much discussion surrounding various platforms like YouTube and Twitter, meanwhile, are concerned with making sure users don’t walk away feeling depressed or burned out. Within that context, Google’s new feature comes across as another tech giant’s attempt to improve internet morale.
Google recognizes that this venture won’t necessarily fix everything, but it still finds exploring the experiment worthwhile given our current media landscape. If you want to give this a test run, just use any device with Google Assistant, such as a phone or Google Home — the worst thing that could happen is that you’ll hear something good.