In Google We Trust
Is Google our new “God? ”
It’s a question I raised in my book, The Church in an Age of Crisis. But I wasn’t the first to raise it.
Columnist Thomas Friedman first posed the question in The New York Times in June of 2003. Quoting the vice-president of a Wi-Fi provider, Friedman writes that “Google, combined with Wi-Fi, is a little bit like God. God is wireless, God is everywhere and God sees and knows everything. Throughout history, people connected to God without wires. Now, for many questions in the world, you ask Google, and increasingly, you can do it without wires, too.”
Now Friedman’s question seems prescient.
Taken from “googol” (the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros), signifying how much information Google initially hoped to catalog, “Googling” has now become synonymous with the search for information. Interestingly, when Tim Berners-Lee first imagined the web as its inventor, he named it “Enquire,” short for Enquire Within upon Everything, a “musty old book of Victorian advice I noticed as a child in my parents’ house outside London. With its title suggestive of magic, the book served as a portal to a world of information, everything from how to remove clothing stains to tips on investing money.”
But now, Google is the “triage nurse” that “spares our blushes.” It has been confirmed that searches on erectile dysfunction, incontinence and weight loss vastly outnumber the cases physicians actually encounter in their practice.
“And the promise of anonymity,” observes Kate Bussman in The Telegraph, “has also led us to seek answers to our emotional, ethical and existential dilemmas.” As Luciano Floridi, the Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the Oxford Internet Institute has observed, “We’re looking for an oracle.” And, he adds, the “new oracles are online and digital.”
No wonder that the top “how to” searches on Google for the year find “how to kiss” at the top, quickly followed by how to meditate and masturbate.
The top “what is” search is “love.”
There are several dangers in Google’s place in our world.
One is the herd mentality for decision making. A site such as TripAdvisor may be helpful, but it should never be forgotten that it is just the organized opinions of people you do not know who may not share any of your tastes or sensibilities.
Another danger is the staggering amount of misinformation on the web.
Then there is the trivialization of knowledge. Why we may talk of the internet providing such things as access to the contents of the great libraries of the world, in truth we are more prone to search for the latest escapades of Justin Beiber or Beyonce Knowles.
But most concerning of all is the separation of information from wisdom.
Quentin Schultze once wrote that the torrent of information now at our disposal is often little more than “endless volleys of nonsense, folly and rumor masquerading as knowledge, wisdom, and even truth.”
So if Google is becoming our god, perhaps the best conclusion is one uttered by none other than the Incredible Hulk in the first Avenger’s movie of Loki, the supposed demigod who wanted to rule the earth.
James Emery White
James Emery White, The Church in An Age of Crisis (Baker).
“Is Google God?” Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, June 29, 2003, read online.
Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web.
Quentin J. Schultze, Habits of the High-Tech Heart.
“Are you there Google? How the internet became our most trusted friend,” Kate Bussmann, The Telegraph, July 28, 2014, read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.