The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Need to Know?

My friend gave up Google for Lent. Searching was only on a need-to-know basis; she couldn’t look up book titles, Bible references, or gardening tips.

Although not quite as extreme as this Guardian columnist, who gave it up entirely (maps and YouTube included) for seven days, my friend spent six weeks in a broadly Google-free zone.

As someone who loves to absorb information and can’t bear not knowing things, I was fascinated by this endeavour. Is it possible to learn to live with your own ignorance? It seems a stupid question – of course we can… yet we all understand the deep annoyance of knowing you’ve seen that actor before, but not quite being able to remember where.

3.8 million Google searches happen every minute; about 63,000 per second. That’s an awful lot of searching for answers. And yes, the irony that I googled that statistic has not escaped me.

I wonder whether we – and society at large – are googling trivial facts to distract from the realisation that we are fundamentally afraid of the things that we do not – and cannot – know? Perhaps it’s a generational thing – the ‘digital natives’ do not understand a world where the answers are not instantly available. We are so scared of our own limitations that we mask it with fun facts, papering over the cracks of frustration and ignorance with quick-fix answers and immediate solutions.

In a world that relies on Google for the answers, and has billions of pieces of information at its fingertips, what does it look like to admit we don’t know something? What might it mean to learn to live with the frustration of a lack of knowledge?

I don’t know. And I probably can’t google it. But might the practice of not knowing the simple things help us when we are confronted with situations we truly cannot understand – sudden bereavement, chronic illness, natural disasters? Easy answers are easy to come by, and Google might have it sussed when it comes to fun facts and scientific research… but the big questions of life are not solved with a quick internet search.

To admit our own limitations is to admit our need for something greater; to remain humble and reliant on the one who may not give us the immediate, quick-fix answers that we want, but instead offers us the truth that we need.


Nell Goddard

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Nell Goddard


  1. Thanks Nell for your reflection. Maybe a new course / book “asking the questions google can’t answer” is in order? !
    ….Really enjoy your blogs and articles. Thank you

    By Peter Farley-Moore  -  3 May 2019
  2. Thank you. That was very helpful. I also wonder whether this googling is about trying to fill every moment doing something. Rather than sit quietly and just ‘be’, things come into our heads that we feel we ought to find out about? Thank you, again. Your article has made me think again about time and how I use (or abuse) it.

    By Cathy  -  3 May 2019
  3. Very thought provoking Nell. Well Done. G’ma.x

    By Angela Pearce  -  3 May 2019
  4. Great piece, Nell. Really thought provoking. Thank you!

    By Mel Paterson  -  3 May 2019
  5. Thank you Nell..that was so good..yes a follow up book would be great!

    By Iris White  -  3 May 2019
  6. Great piece and I agree with Cathy’s comments above. I had to wait for someone yesterday and just sat in the stillness of my front room at home looking out at the garden in the evening sun with no TV on or background noise and without looking at my mobile and I think that 10 minutes of stillness and peace may have been the best ten minutes of the day!

    By Philip Hamilton  -  3 May 2019
  7. I think this is one of those articles that I will be referencing and reflecting upon for a long time (although I may use google to find it!). Thank you for sharing.

    By Andy  -  3 May 2019
  8. There are plenty of us – I mean, “us” human beings – who have to live with our own ignorance; or rather, perhaps, within our own limited knowledge. I’m thinking of those prevented by circumstances, geography or medical conditions from being able to search for “whatever, whenever”. In a “knowledge economy”, do we over-value the ability to know things rather than having to rely on someone else’s greater knowledge? Maybe admitting to a level of ignorance and accepting it – even graciously embracing it – can help to nurture trust, faith and humility.

    By Martin Leckebusch  -  3 May 2019
  9. Good article indeed – thank you, Nell.

    By Simon Hettle  -  3 May 2019
  10. Maybe it’s just a sign of the times… Previous generations( pre computers) would have talked to each other and/or reached for a hefty encyclopaedia from a shelf… Now that would be considered way too much work these days…

    By Sally Kirk  -  10 May 2019

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