Spiritual Journey: Google and Self-Knowledge ~ BitterSweetLife

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Spiritual Journey: Google and Self-Knowledge

"WHO AM I?" A Google Desktop query can find a lot of answers—just not the most important ones.

I’m a sucker for new Google toys. I use Gmail (and I can send you an invite if you want). I have several accounts, actually. Just last month, I signed this blog up for Google’s new site mapping service. A few weeks ago I downloaded Google Talk. If Google opened a restaurant, I would probably go there.

So it perplexed me a little when the new Google Desktop system took forever to index my computer. The idea is cool. Google Desktop crawls your whole computer, including email, online chat sessions, pictures, web history, and indexes everything. Then, instead of using the stupid Windows search function, you can pull up Google-style results in a matter of seconds. You start typing in your phrase and the file results appear as you type, sorted by variety, date, etc. Sweet.

But it took over a week for Google to index my computer so I could start enjoying the new tech rush. Day after day, the little status bar would say, Indexing 17% complete, Indexing 35% complete, etc. Once it reached 62% and I got excited. But every time I shut the computer down or reloaded programs, the indexing would start all over. It was distressing, to say the least.

It was also, I thought, kind of like my own attempts at self-assessment.

Every so often, the idea arises that I am getting to know myself pretty well. I suppose I think this idea, although it seems like it is self-regenerative. It keeps on walking in, although I don’t remember inviting it back. Yeah, you know yourself all right, it says. You know what makes you tick, what makes you struggle, and how to get through it. You have yourself figured out. I find that it’s fairly comforting to believe this, like holding my fate in my own hands. Like I've charted out the central feature of my spiritual journey.

But my fate, apparently, is slippery. This is where the Google thing comes in. I’m “crawling” my own personality constantly, indexing my thoughts and motives, and yet, they are constantly changing. I think I have myself scanned pretty well, and then, without warning, I realize the self-assessment process has just begun all over again. My level of self-knowledge never reaches 100%.

I find that my knowledge of me is somehow limited. The fact that I’m living my life encroaches on my chances of understanding it. As creatures, we are not really self-monitoring. It takes a higher intelligence to really understand us. As Augustine wrote,
I placed myself behind myself all the time. You took me from behind myself, put me in front of myself. I saw myself and was horrified. - St. Augustine

In simple language, Augustine points up a profound paradox: Because I am me, I cannot look in on myself. I don’t have the perspective. Only God has that. Therefore, the degree of my self-knowledge will depend upon my reliance on God’s perspective. To understand myself, I must trust someone else. Looking at my heart requires the perspective of divine eyes—even if the revealed picture is not exactly pretty. I sense that this is absolutely essential. It’s like G.K. Chesterton says:
To the question, “What are you?” I could only answer, “God knows.” And to the question, “What is meant by the Fall?” I could answer with complete sincerity, “That whatever I am, I am not myself.”

The simplest statements about ourselves require knowledge that we do not innately possess. It would not occur to me to posit that I am “made in the image of God.” Or to suggest, in the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, that “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Crawling the cracks and chasms of my own mind would never reveal these truths to me, and it’s essential to my mental health that I remember this. Knowledge of our true worth, our identity and “fate,” cannot be self-disclosed or self-invested. There is no Google Mindframe. In this sense, Google has me beat.

The Google Desktop finally finished scanning my pc when I accidentally left it on all night, but I’ve been scanning myself for almost three decades now, and the process is never over. Maybe the real answer is staring me in the face: If I throw up my hands, and relinquish the technical control I seem to crave—if I accept the necessity of this strange and childish trust—where might it lead?

I have a guess that, for starters, it might show me how I’m supposed to live. God knows me perfectly, tells me everything I need to know. One word from him, a word like “child,” could have unexplored worlds of implications. That’s why life continues to be this spiritual journey—featuring me as one of its mysteries. Someone can read my blueprints, dissect them right down to the point where spirituality intersects with basketball, both strangely colored with this instinct to talk smack—strange, yes, but somebody gets it. And he’s not me.

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tim said...

if you had a Mac, you'd have Spotlight, which is faster and more powerful than Google's add-on search. So let's see here, does having Spotlight speak to my spiritual self-assessment abilities, or does it make my computer more spiritual than yours? :)

Ariel said...

So...does having Spotlight speak to my spiritual self-assessment abilities, or does it make my computer more spiritual than yours?

Neither. It makes me say Stuff it, man. You already know I'm envious. Then again, if I had the ever-desirable mac, this post would clearly not have been written...

Ok. So I still want the mac.

Anonymous said...

Intriguing post. God knows us through and through. I don't have to spend my life "navel gazing", but glory-gazing (looking to God). He'll give me the "self knowledge" I need (sigh of relief).


tim said...

it's way more fun to say these things to defensive Windows zealots...I always forget you're not a Gates man by choice :)

Ariel said...

Glory gazing...not navel gazing.

I like that summary. :)

And you're right, Tim. The only time I'm a Gates man "by choice" is when I stroll through the doors of a Gate's BBQ...ba-bum-ching.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife