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Just google it

This article originally published in The Northern Daily Leader on 17 March 2012.

How great is the internet? Want to know how many ping pong balls fit in a jumbo? Just google it (around 28 million). Want to know Tony Abbott’s date of birth? Just google it (4 November 1957). Want to know how much the world’s most expensive watch costs? Just google it ($4.7 million). Want to know where the….ok you probably get it by now. It’s almost hard to imagine life without access to all of this amazing information. Though of course much of what you find on the internet is of dubious quality – have a look for when the world will end and you’ll see what I mean (21st of December apparently, so go easy on the Christmas presents this year).

Setting aside the impending end of the world, it’s in the area of health that the internet really shines. Be honest, who hasn’t googled their medical symptoms? Self-diagnosis through the internet has become so popular it has even led to the creation of a new word – ‘cyberphobia’ – which refers to a tendency for seemingly sane and rational people to focus on the worst ‘diagnosis’ they find on the internet. A headache becomes a possible brain tumour. Stomach pain could be a perforation of the bowel. Sometimes it’s better just to leave the computer switched off.

As someone who uses a computer everyday however, I find it hard not to indulge in a bit of cyberphobia. Some back pain prompted a trip to the doctor some years ago. I had already googled it and was resigned to finding out I had back cancer or even worse. I was surprised however when, after describing my symptoms to my doctor, he turned to his computer and did a search on the internet. Why was I paying $120 an hour for him to search the internet, when I could (and had) done that myself? Well, it turns out it was money well spent as it took him 30 seconds to determine that I likely had a pinched nerve and wasn’t going to die in two weeks, and just needed to relax, literally.

The benefits of having an expert in his field consider my case were obvious. It’s surprising then that so many people are happy to let their financial health be managed by what they find on the internet and elsewhere. Rather than seek professional advice, we let the internet, the newspaper or the guy on TV tell us how to manage our finances. Go and see a financial advisor, it’ll be money well spent. And do it before the 21st of December – after that it’s apparently just too late.