I sit alone at the keyboard with the wide expanse of cyber space staring at me; offering endless answers to my questions, a listening ear, and a covert look into lives of the rich and famous. It tempts me with the false promise of anonymity, with the guise of innocence.
It's the reality none of us internet users wish to face; it's the truth we ignore when we log on – we are not anonymous, each of us leaves an online blueprint, a collection of habits easily measured and traced. Most of this information is willingly submitted through various social networking sites and search engines. Information about the comments we make on Facebook, things we 'like' on Facebook, You Tube clips we watch, our tweets, questions we type into Google and people we connect with is stored, catalogued and analysed.
Earlier this year 'Matt' sent an email to Buzzfeed expressing his confusion and concern that Facebook 'knew he was gay before his family did'. Buzzfeed reports Matt logged on to Facebook to see an ad pop up on the right side of his newsfeed: 'Coming out? Need help?' it asked. Matt's first thought was that Facebook had been reading his text messages through the Facebook iPhone app – a claim Facebook denies.
It is more likely that Facebook used algorithms to track Matt's social behaviour online – including a comment he'd made on an article about a US Senator's support for marriage equality – in order to draw conclusions about his likes, dislikes and sexual preferences.
On March 12, 2013, New York Police Officer Gilberto Valle was found guilty of conspiring to kidnap and cannibalise several women. The New York Times reports that none of the women Valle planned to kill were harmed. Instead, the majority of evidence used to gain his conviction came from his online blueprint – the chat rooms he'd visited, the questions he'd Googled and the online fantasy games he'd played. His virtual behaviour matched the 'surveillance' he was carrying out on his intended victims leading the jury to convict him of conspiracy to kidnap – something the 28-year-old family man may face life imprisonment for.
These extreme cases force us to consider how our online lives reveal our true selves. What do your Google searches say about you?
I'm not sure my search history would paint a picture I'd want anyone else to see. A search for 'clearing a blocked drain' makes me mundanely practical while 'Kim Kardashian's wedding' reveals my shallow love of celebrity. Then there are the anxious searches of a hypochondriac: 'abdominal pain', 'lower back pain' and 'headache'. Of course there are searches related to work: 'proper use of apostrophes in names'. Or searches for more romantic reasons: 'best valentine's day gifts for men'.
Am I the sum of my Googled parts?
What we type into Google may reveal our true selves in ways we were not expecting, but there are still things we can hide. Conversely, there is nothing we can hide from God. The Bible teaches us that God knows our thoughts and hearts better than we do. The author of the book of Hebrews writes, 'Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.'
We can choose to delete our search history, remove our Facebook accounts or live 'off the grid'. But we cannot escape the perfectly fair and just judge who will hold our hearts to account.
The internet masquerades as my personal priest, but ultimately my Google confessions go nowhere. Typing my deepest desires and fears into Google will not absolve me or bring me the peace I crave.
Thankfully a solution is provided. We can approach God's judgment with confidence thanks to Jesus, our great high priest. The author of Hebrews shows us why: 'Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are â€" yet he did not sin.'
I am compelled to take my fingers off the keyboard and trust more deeply in the one true and very personal priest provided by God himself. Google confessional? Not today
Sophia Sinclair is a writer living in Christchurch, New Zealand. After studying, working and training in Theatre, English Literature and Journalism, she joined the non-profit sector to work for the Anglican mission organisation NZCMS where she promotes mission around New Zealand. For more information on NZCMS: www.nzcms.org.nz
Sophia Sinclair's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sophia-sinclair.html