My friend Dave posted on Facebook the other day about how Google has semi-become his external brain and when it’s broken, thinking processes are impeded. I had had a similar experience earlier– actually kind of the inside-out version of that experience– where I realized I google things now that ordinarily I’d call and ask people. I called my friend Brent to ask him when Lent started (I’ve forgotten again. I think it’s next week) and by the time he called back I’d googled it. I claimed, grandiosely (Facebook is a fun place to be grandiose) that this was a huge problem, analogous to being alienated from one’s labor under the factory system. Dave saw my grandiosity and raised me an epochal cultural shift, saying that all this had to do with
the way we envision and encompass information, and what we consider truth and how to get at it. Encyclopedia -> Wikipedia -> crowdsourcing, dial a number for an answer. Humans become an aggregate swarm of nano-processors. Now I’m getting out of hand…
Truth, in this formulation, becomes asymptotic, and democratic in a bad way: truth becomes whatever most people repeatedly assert.
Okay, that is grandiose. It’s not a different kind of bad; it’s just bad. But try this: next time you’re going to google something, ask someone instead. A human person. And pay attention when they answer, and think about the fact that if you were in solitary confinement for a week you would give large sums of money to talk to another human person: this is kind of an incredible privilege we have. After all, there isn’t a search algorithm anywhere that’s made in the image of God. They don’t even have one in Seattle, and they’ve got a lot of stuff there.