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.