The New Ouija Board

Dear Friends, Growing up as a preteen in the 70's, I made all my important decisions with the Ouija board. The Ouija knew who I would marry (luckily, it was wrong), whether I was going to die soon (luckily, it was right), and how to deal with tricky situations (luckily, it suggested not telling my mother.)

You may be smirking now, thinking about how foolish I was to rely on a Ouija board to predict my future and tell me what to do. You will be relieved to know that my Ouija board is long gone along with my Ziggy notebook. But I continue to look for someone else to tell me what I should do, don't you? Now, instead of asking the Ouija board, I ask Google.

Asking Google what to do isn't really so different from asking the Ouija board. Answers from the Ouija board are really answers from our own unconscious will, tempered by our intuition and a bit of magic. As are answers from Google.

There's the element of unconscious will - even though we are asking for an answer, we don't accept just any answer that Google supplies. Unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, we pick and choose the results we want from among the pages of potential responses.

For example, when Googling "what should I eat for lunch today," I ignored the answer suggesting that I go to a "local burger place" since I am mostly vegetarian. I put more faith in the results that included what I already consider a balanced meal. My will had already begun to form the answer that I wanted to hear. This is the same as when we (admit it) helped push the Ouija pointer toward the answer we wanted.

The element of intuition is also part of Googling and Ouija. After our first few Googles, we develop a sixth sense about which answers we can rely on. Usually it is because the websites are hosted by organizations or individuals we trust like NIH, webmd, or urbanspoon. Sometimes it is something more subtle, like the font or layout of a site. We intuitively know which answers can be trusted. My intuition says that sites like tigerdroppings or the unofficial Prince fan site are unlikely to provide me with any helpful dietary advice.

And finally, there's the bit of magic that moves both the Ouija board and Google. It's why search results are slightly different every time you ask a question. For the Oujia board, it may have something to do with universal energy. For Google, it may have more to do with adwords and search optimization. Regardless, we can never step into the same Google search twice. Searching for what to eat for lunch today is guaranteed to serve up different results tomorrow. Just the way the Ouija board rarely yielded the same answers at different sleepovers. This magic is what keeps us coming back to the Ouija or the Google. We think that this time we will get the answer.

So are we really so different now? We still want some all-powerful force to tell us what to do, as long as we can influence it with a little push in one direction or the other. Instead of the Ouija board, we just type our question into Google. We know the answer we are looking for, but we want someone else to confirm it for us.

The question I am asking myself is: Do we really need it? Or can we put aside the Oujia and Google (at least for personal questions) and trust what we know is right for us? Seems so easy, and yet, I wonder what Google would say to that...