Google is one of the most recognisable brands on the planet. It is so identified with the task of internet searching that the Oxford English Dictionary has added the verb ‘to Google,’ meaning ‘to use the Google search engine to obtain information on the Internet,’ to its lexicon.
John Battelle, one of the founders of Wired magazine, eulogises about Google thus: ‘Every day, millions upon millions of people lean forward into their computer screens and pour their wants, fears and intentions into the simple colors and brilliant white background of Google.com.’
But there have been words of caution and criticism amongst the adulation. Educators such as Tara Brabazon have lamented the impact of Google on the research abilities of university students, claiming that ‘the popularity of Google is facilitating laziness, poor scholarship and compliant thinking.’
If everything can be searched, the implication is that everything can be known. Google is therefore profoundly humanistic. Just as, given long enough, Google’s engineers will inevitably develop the perfect search engine, there is a conviction that, given the right search criteria, the Google user will be able to find any information and answer any question. Google operates a modernist assumption that the truth is out there – you just need the right tool to help you find it.
Google therefore propagates a myth of human omniscience – rather than being content to organise God’s creation, Google deceives us into believing we can know it exhaustively.
God’s rebuke to Job in chapters 38-41 of the book of Job is therefore instructive. God’s relentless questioning puts Job in his place as a finite creature before an infinite creator. This sense of perspective is precisely the truth Google trains us to suppress, blurring the creator-creature distinction and elevating man to God’s level. Instead, like the Psalmist, we must recognise there is ‘knowledge too wonderful for me’ (Psalm 139:6).
By the sheer volume of information it places at our fingertips, Google suppresses the truth by ensuring it gets lost in background noise. As well as things we are not meant to know, the Bible is clear there are things that are vital for us to know: how to be ‘wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 3:15). Google also blurs the truth-trivia distinction by removing this biblical hierarchy.
Ultimately, Google can either function as an idol or act as a conduit to other idols. Tim Keller defines an idol as ‘something we look to for things that only God can give,’ which for Google might include knowledge, guidance and even (by Googling one’s own name) self-affirmation. The distance from oracle to idol is short and easily crossed.
Google is a remarkable and genuinely useful work of human innovation, but we must be wary of its myths concerning our place and purpose in the universe. The reality is that we are far more the searched than we are the searchers (Psalm 139:1). And the glorious prospect of the gospel is that we are not just the searched, but the searched for (Luke 15).
By Dave Crofts
This article was originally published in Oak Hill College’s ‘Commentary’ magazine, Summer 2010 edition. The original can be found at http://www.oakhill.ac.uk/commentary/10_summer/pdfs/commentary_summer_10.pdf.