At our Newfrontiers leaders Prayer & Fasting days this week I made a flippant remark to a friend about getting my chakras aligned. (Being a good Christian he wasn’t familiar with the term.) Then – oddly – the google ads that run at the side of my emails were today encouraging me to buy aromatherapy creams that would help align my chakras.
How does that happen?
It is a basic statistical rule that anything that has any possibility of ever happening will at some point happen – it is this rule that lies behind many ‘coincidences’ and ‘what were the chances of that?’ events. Someone will win the lottery. Someone will get struck by lightening. Someone will bump into a long lost friend on a train station in Bognor. (What do you mean it hasn’t happened to you yet?)
Of course, with Google it feels a bit more sinister than just the random workings of statistical probabilities, as Google is working hard to map our personal preferences and desires. As an experiment to illustrate this I just asked one office colleague to give me a random subject (she chose ‘synchronized swimming’) and another colleague and I then typed this into Google at the same time. Wikipedia came out as the first result for both of us, but after that the rest of the page was different – although I’m struggling to see in what way the results had been tailored for each of us!
‘Googling’ is now so ubiquitous and so useful (I guess I must have googled twenty or more times today already. Sermon prepping this morning I didn’t bother to go to a concordance to find a reference – just google it) it is easy to believe in the objectivity of Google, as if it were simply a much faster and more complete telephone directory or Encyclopaedia Britannica in which the information remains constant, and is the same for whoever accesses it, wherever they are. But googleworld is different. It’s watching you, responding to you, anticipating you. Which is why two people doing the same kind of job and sitting within an arms length of one another get different results every time they google.
This should make us much more sceptical about the information we receive back and more discerning about how we use it. It also means we should be careful what we google for – remember, everything you’ve ever looked at online is recorded somewhere and has a shaping impact on everything else you look at. And for me (perhaps it’s just me being perverse) it means throwing the odd curve ball into the Google mix so that ‘they’ don’t really get to pigeonhole me.
I like to mess with their chakras.