Thinking about Google over the last week, I have fallen into the typically procrastinatory habit of every so often typing the words "what is" or "what" or "wha" into the Google search box at the top right of my computer screen. Those prompts are all the omnipotent engine needs to inform me of the current instant top 10 of the virtual world's most urgent desires. At the time of typing, this list reads, in descending order:

What is the fiscal cliff
What is my ip
What is obamacare
What is love
What is gluten
What is instagram
What does yolo mean
What is the illuminati
What is a good credit score
What is lupus

It is a list that indicates anxieties, not least the ways in which we are restlessly fixated with our money, our bodies and our technology – and paranoid and confused in just about equal measure. A Prince Charles-like desire for the definition of love, in my repetitive experience of the last few days, always seems to come in at No 4 on this list of priorities, though the preoccupations above it and below it tend to shift slightly with the news.

The list also supports another truism: that we – the billion components of the collective questioning mind – have got used to asking Google pretty much anything and expecting it to point us to some kind of satisfactory answer. It's long since become the place most of us go for knowledge, possibly even, desperately, for wisdom. And it is already almost inconceivable to imagine how we might have gone about finding the answer to some of these questions only 15 years ago without it – a visit to the library? To a doctor? To Citizens Advice? To a shrink?

That was the time, in the prehistory of about 1995, when our ideas of "search" still carried the sense of the word's Latin roots – a search was a kind of "arduous quest" that invariably involved "wandering" and "seeking" and "traversing". Not any longer. For those who are growing up to search in this millennium, it implies nothing more taxing than typing two words into a box – or, increasingly, mumbling them into a phone – and waiting less than an instant for a comprehensive answer, generally involving texts and images and films and books and maps. Search's sense of questing purpose has already gone the way of other pre-Google concepts, such as "getting lost".