Is Google God?

Reflections on our relationship with digital information

You need a phone to bake a cake?” My eight-year-old, Matias, asks me, his tone incredulous.

I had just finished explaining that we couldn’t bake the cake we had planned as a treat because I couldn’t find my phone to search for a recipe. His dad was gone at church, which meant I couldn’t use his phone either. My laptop was at work. I was effectively cut off from the informational world.

Yeah, moments like this make me wonder if I depend too much on my phone.

Don’t get me wrong. I crave the efficiency of one sleek, multipurpose device. I often feel like a modern day gunslinger, a cowgirl with a quick draw, color-coordinated Google calendar.

And yet, I miss the plethora of everyday objects the smartphone has replaced: flashlights, cameras, home phones, yoga teachers and cookbooks. I miss the heft and ritual of going to a certain place in the house, to find a certain object, to complete a certain task.

I miss the rhythm of a life in which we had to work a little more for information, and single-task was just a normal life pace.

Also, when I pause to think, I wonder why I am comfortable with my strangely intimate relationship with my phone. It holds my photos, all of my family and friends’ phone numbers which I no longer memorize, my writing, my family’s calendar. It could easily reconstruct my life. And privacy issues aside, should I feel comfortable with this sort of bionic memory? This insidious extension of self?

Despite my best efforts to not text or use my phone when my kids are present (or at least cluster my phone use and explain to my kids what I am doing), my 18-month-old will, upon finding it somewhere, run it over to me in alarm as if I may not be able to breath or think without it.

My biggest concern with modern Smartphone use, when I stop to think? What my kids are learning about how to seek and analyze information.

When Google came out with their version of a virtual assistant, my kids smoothly accepted what was for me initially bizarre. They wanted to ask Google everything, and were thrilled that the phone would answer back, or pull up images. They even asked Google to find their lost Legos and clean their room — and were disappointed by its current constraints.

Although I diligently limit screen time, I would suddenly find them huddled together, asking my phone/Google about the world’s fanciest and fastest cars, and how to sing “I am a Gummy Bear,” in Russian.

Suddenly, my sons were spotting Lamborghinis everywhere in our modest, rural neighborhood. No boost in Russian skills noted yet.

And while I marvel at how quickly children adapt and will soon evolve our technology, I am also concerned. No, not just about their safety in endless waves of information (although that is obviously a concern).

I am concerned that in this informational age children’s default relationship with information, while more individualized and thrillingly fast, is also passive. Problem solving and analytical skills are exponentially important now that our kids swim in a sea of readily available information.

And, as information is literally brought to their fingertips or ears with ease, are we teaching them to consume critically?

My concerns about my children’s easy acceptance of digital information was brought to a head when Tomas, my five-year-old, turned to me casually and asked, “Mom, is Google God? Because Google knows everything.”

So, when he brought home guidelines for a report on acacia trees and said we could just ask Google all of our questions, I put my foot down.

Instead, I took him to a place rich with ideas where inquiry and careful consumption are still valued.

Our local library.

Is Google God?

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