What do you do when you don’t know something? Simple, Google it.
Google is the place we go to solve debates in the pub, ensure we don’t look incompetent at work, and even discover the meaning of life.
Alongside this, something else has been happening. Google has become the closest thing the West has had to an all-knowing, all-powerful being since it believed in God. Because everything you do is tracked, recorded, and analysed.
Google knows so much. Then there is Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Tinder etc., who know all your entertainment, spending, and romantic preferences.
The mountains of data of human behaviour that tech giants possess has given them unparalleled insights into how individuals actually behave. Moreover, they have used this data to direct and alter our behaviour.
Today, people often engage in politics via a newsfeed algorithm, which is designed to entertain us enough to keep us scrolling, so we can be advertised to. Nuance doesn’t keep us scrolling. Fake news and one-sided rants do.
So that’s what dominates our newsfeeds. Not because tech giants have an agenda to promote it. They have merely learned what human beings actually do. They then profit from giving the people what they want: clickable-fake-news-rants.
Their god-like knowledge is in the data they gather and it allows them to see our unsanitised digital behaviour.
It’s not pretty: we insult people using words we would never say to their face. We only encounter people who think like us, and mock ‘others’ whilst hidden behind screens. We make our lives look great for the dopamine buzz of ‘likes’; masking and feeding our insecurity and anxiety.
Algorithms haven’t made us like this. The digital world has just freed us to express our existing selfishness, insecurity, and hatred by removing many of the social ramifications of expressing our ugliness.
Human nature hasn’t changed.
So, what do we do? Accepting I’m an ugly mess was the first step I made to become a Christian. I didn’t need unparalleled data to know what my faith has always claimed was true. I’m flawed and the root of that is emphatically not technology.
The challenge is to see our own brokenness, seek forgiveness, and join in God’s redeeming work. What does that look like in technology? Probably much like it does for the rest of life: people dying to themselves; loving their enemies; and inspiring faith and hope in others.
Between cups of tea, Ben chases footballs, follows Jesus, obsesses over Ted (his dog), and does the Marketing and Communications for XLP.
A longer version of this piece first appeared here.