Google is God. Or so it seems. Billions of people turn to the search giant every day to answer their questions. And Google is happy to record it all and give you answers. More information about users equals more money in the bank.
It's no different when it comes to their smartphone offering. Google has adopted a "question everything" theme to govern the promotional campaign for their latest offering, the Google Pixel 2. In one ad, the company asks: what happens when you change a period to a question mark? It changes everything, they say. Their examples go from the ancient cosmological flat-earth theory to the decidedly first-world problem of phones taking hours to charge. Along the way, they reference supposed pain points: searching the web is hard, we're lost, we can't all be famous and cars need drivers. And of course, Google comes to the rescue every time.
In their Ask More of your Phone ad, seen on TV, movie theater screens, and online, they demonstrate just how much of our lives we can put in Google's trusted hands. Here's a quick breakdown of the ad.
It starts with a curious child.
"What is that?" she asks innocently. The response is immediate. Someone thrusts the Pixel 2 in our faces. The upbeat music begins, and we are assaulted with a barrage of fast clips, designed, as good marketing requires, to overwhelm us and appeal to our senses. "What can it do?" a young man in a laundromat asks. "A lot," the narrator assures us. He then proceeds to answer a variety of urgent questions, mostly from young people.
"Can it tell me when to leave?" says a young lady in a bath tub. "And the fastest way there?" "Yes, now," she is assured.
"Can it tell me my bike code?" asks a worried young lady who has forgotten the combination to her ride. In reply, we hear Google's confident female voice announcing the code for her.
"Can it tell me if I need an umbrella?" another young woman asks at the train station.
"Yes," comes the reply, and then we see the weather man say "she's right!" Then we see an unfortunate young man getting caught in the rain. "What if I forget it?" he yells, both him and his phone hopelessly soaked. He is assured it's alright. The phone is water resistant.
"Can I take a selfie just by saying 'take a selfie'?" "Yep!"
"Isn't this going to look shaky?" "Nope!"
"Can it call him 'bay'? Can it text my bay?" "Yes, yes!"
"Can it order me a sandwich?" A knock at the door. "Wow! And another one?" Yes.
"Can it speak to my house?" "Can it turn the lights off? On?"
"Do I still need to sit here for ages?" "Nope. It charges in 15 minutes."
"What happens if I snap this?" "It gives you info."
In a direct stab against Apple, another worried young lady asks: "Will it ever do this?"
The whole ad freezes for a few seconds while a very Apple-looking storage full message pops up. "Never." "So I can take as many as I want?!" she asks, gleefully snapping multiple pictures.
"Can it drop a beat, though?"
"Does it know what I want before..." The narrator interrupts. "Before you know you want it? Absolutely."
"Does it know what I don't want?" "Certainly." We see his phone ringing, a number that turns out to be a spammer.
"Can it see at night?"
"Great, but will it actually understand me?" says a Scotswoman with a thick accent. "For sure!"
"What happens if I squeeze it?"
"Can it tell me something I forgot?"
"So, it's a phone?" "Well, it's a phone by Google."
There's the punchline. And they're right! A phone from the world's largest search engine and harvester of information IS different. It wants to control and influence virtually every aspect of your life. What happens when we hand over all that power to someone or something else? We get lazy. We get entitled. And our brains get very, very rusty. "Google is our modern god," says Scott Galloway in his recent book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. "We place immense trust in the mechanism." And with a Google phone, we make it even more pervasive and all-encompassing.
My advice? Whether you're considering a Google phone or you're the proud owner of another brand of smartphone, stop...and...think. Here are some questions to get you started:
How much control do I want a machine to have over my life?
My brain is a muscle. Am I flexing it and strengthening it?
In what ways can I limit my dependence on my smartphone?
What information about me do I want to keep private or within my trusted circle of people?
How can I plan better for things so I don't have to rely on my smartphone to rescue me?
Can I trust Google?
Do I remember my parents' birthdays? (Even this sacred information gets forgotten because some big tech company will remind us. But think for a moment: should we be forgetting things like this? Of course not!)
And remember, it doesn't happen quickly. Dependence on our smartphone happens over time, little by little, with each app download, setting tweak and alert. But any day is a good day to start reclaiming control over your life and your identity.
Andrew McDiarmid is a media specialist at the Discovery Institute. His writing has appeared in a variety of Scottish-themed print magazines as well as Relevant Magazine, EvolutionNews.org, the Washington Times, Yahoo Voices and AOL. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.