The Gospel According to Google?

I recently read a book about the founding of Google. Their goal, I learned, is to provide access to information freely and universally. It's Google's quest, their mission, their driving passion. They're doing quite well at this, too: Google's given us fast, intuitive search engines, free email, Google Earth, Google Maps, YouTube, free document storage, free applications, Google Reader, Google Scholar, Google Shopping--etc, etc, etc. It's pretty amazing, really. And all of this undergirded by their motto, "Don't be evil."

Reading the book, I couldn't shake the biblical image of humankind's impressive construction of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). This was another bold assertion of god-like technologies over human surroundings, leveraging creativity and culture to unify humankind and to reach upward to the heavens. However, the project was doomed from the beginning: humankind's penchant for sin and evil corrupted their designs, making them drip with destructive potential. The text tells us God graciously confounded their speech and stopped their hubristic aspirations.

The takeaway for me?

Whether it's the advanced attempts of Babel or Google, such reliance on technology to perfect, unify, or otherwise save humankind is doomed to fail. We can't jump over our shadows, no matter how sophisticated our techniques. And, while it's intoxicating to see how fast and universally we can access information, we need to ask ourselves: is such abundant information actually making us better people? Can more information really improve us? I thought we all awoke last century from the liberal Enlightenment dream that such "progress" could perfect us. Such giddy optimism was choked by mustard gas and trench warfare, two world wars and a holocaust, genocide and the possibility of nuclear Armaggedon. Technology and progress are very alluring; it's easy to become intoxicated by advancement and innovation. Beware.

Don't get me wrong: instant access to information is great. I love it. I really do. My growing gaggle of iPhone apps proves it. But I'm not going to buy the lie that universal access to information will in any way improve us morally. It might actually make us worse. More informed, but more arrogant. More powerful, but not a whit more compassionate.

Timeless values of loving relationship, face-to-face quality time, forgiveness, patience, long-suffering, grace--these are what will ultimately transform and improve us as people. These can't be souped-up or supercharged. They're not fast or optimized for efficiency. They're often slow and frustratingly painful. In the end, it's intimacy, not information, that wins the day. It's the intimate knowledge of God's grace in Christ, not the informational knowledge of Google's facts on the Web, that transforms us.


Anonymous said...

Recently, I have been reflecting on the amount of time spent on the computer... I also have been thinking about my father's words... we will go as Rome did... crumbling from within... I'm trying to find a good balance Carl but when I check my email before doing my Bible study... his words creep back into my thoughts... hum... priorities... and truth... I so appreciate your reflections.

Carl Hofmann said...

Thanks, Carol, for checking in and sharing your thoughts! I've always felt that digital technology can make a wonderful servant and a terrible master. The trick is in how--and how much--we use it, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Oh my, good thoughts - agonizing as I watch the internet's most profitable business shift from pornography (it no longer makes money because everyone is posting it on YouTube) to human trafficking/slavery. I agree, we are pushing technology faster than our moral system can keep up - and I lament that Richard and I were in the technology business for so long - and now, the previously unimaginable uses of technology are winning the day. Somehow we need to rely on God's guidance in all of this.

Carl Hofmann said...

Yes, you've witnessed a lot of changes since your days at IBM, Merrilee. What particularly concerns me are the challenges coming in the "back door"of our lives and of the Church--those ones we're not vigilant about or aware of. I'd strongly encourage you to get and read Shane Hipps' The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture. He nails the subtler shifts occurring as a result of the digital revolution. Good to hear from you! Do you remember my last sabbatical?! You were a big part of the leadership in my absence, I recall. I'm still grateful.

Hope you're doing really well,