What Are We Searching For?

For several years Google has displayed on YouTube, its Internet video platform, an end-of-the-year review in images, photographs, and news footage designed to illustrate what people are looking for when they log on to Google.

Not surprisingly, Google spared no expense in constructing the video last year. A soaring musical score accompanied a visually stunning review––not of the topics that garnered the most “hits,” but, rather, a collage of subjects that generated the fastest-growing trend of searches. In other words, Google showed us the people and events that sparked the most phenomenal rise in spontaneous and consistent curiosity among the planet’s Internet users in 2012.

Topping the list were searches involving celebrity tragedy (Whitney Houston), trivial music fads (the ultra-silly Asian dance craze “Gangnam Style”), natural disasters (Hurricane Sandy), our obsession with new technology (the iPad 3), more celebrities of the royal type (Kate Middleton), and sporting events (the London Olympics).

The review, “Zeitgeist 2012,” employs the German word meaning “spirit of the age.” After all, when certain videos go viral on YouTube, the only explanation for their gathering millions of hits is that we are influenced by the trending opinions of others who are basically telling us, “You’ve got to see this!”

People are definitely swept along by the fads and trends of the day, most of which have no intrinsic or lasting value. We follow them for no other reason than the fact that they are, well, trendy.

But other Web searches on Google are of a different sort. Apparently we are interested in natural disasters, for example, because they impact us or those we love. They also evoke fear and awe, elements the ancient Greeks knew made for good tragedy or drama––or in Google’s case, a compelling Web search.

And there are still other types of searches. For several years, Google conducted a search of its own called Google Street View. It is an ambitious project through which the digital-media giant tries to photograph and make available on the Web pictures of every house and every street on planet Earth. If successful, it will obviously aid Google’s well-known desire to become the foremost repository of the world’s information. Its dominance of the information market would become complete and certainly boost its profits, which is the legitimate aim of every business venture.

Ironically, though, Google’s search for information has met with some roadblocks. It appears the company did not like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) conducting a search of its own into Google’s Street View project. Last year the FCC fined Google for obstructing the investigation. A Swiss court has ordered Google to modify its effort.

As it turned out, in the process of roving through streets with its specially equipped “Google cars,” Google was obtaining electronic information from some of those homes—including computer passwords and private e-mails—a search result Google said was inadvertent.

Google and modern technology notwithstanding, the most important search we can conduct is one that has ancient roots and eternal ramifications. In the first century, Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mt. 7:7–8).

Jesus was talking about a search that begins in the heart and seeks a connection with the living God. For such a search, the heart must be open, honest, and willing. The Lord Jesus addressed the religious leaders of His day who had performed a perfunctory search for God but studiously avoided the obvious destination to which they were being led: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (Jn. 5:39–40).

Information is important. And Web searches will continue to be a handy resource to gather data from the trivial to the sublime. But for the truly searching soul, the Word of God, which proclaims Christ as the centerpiece of God’s redemptive plan, is the ultimate “search engine.”

The Bible contains what is able to make us “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). Google’s search engine may have given us the “spirit of the age,” but Scripture reveals the Spirit of God. Only the latter answers not only our searches, but also searches and discerns “the thoughts and intents” of our hearts (Heb. 4:12).

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