We live in the age of Google.
Over the past many years, Google has gone from being just another website, it has grown up from being the new Yahoo kid on the block to become an indispensable and integral part of our everyday lives. A day cannot go by without Google helping us out in some way or the other, often without our realizing it even! Google tells me that I may have to leave for work ten minutes earlier than usual on a particular day, because it has detected an accident on the route I normally take. It sometimes reminds me to take an umbrella because it forecasts rain later in the day near my work place. It knows when a cricket match is about to begin and faithfully begins showing me the score right from when the first ball is bowled. The day before I have a flight to catch, it reminds me to wake up early enough so that I can be at the airport on time. And it is not as if I must explicitly ask Google to do any of this - it knows my routine, it knows my travel plans, it knows my interests and it has become smart enough to put two and two together. Recently, something happened that completely freaked me out. My friend sent me a message saying he could not make it for lunch that day as planned - I was taken aback, because I was not planning on a lunch with him anyway. It was then that I realised that while my phone was in my pocket, unlocked, it had sent out a completely legible message to him earlier in the day asking him if we could meet up for lunch! The autocomplete feature on our phones is so incredibly powerful - the moment I begin composing a message to a friend, often all I have to do is to choose the word options that the phone prompts me and I can formulate a perfectly coherent and sensible message, all without typing a single word on my own!
In some ways, it is also a scary thought that Google knows me better than I may know myself. It knows the places I have been to, the things I have done - not a moment passes by without its eyes on me. When we were growing up, we were told that God sees everything we do and that we could never hide from God. I am not sure how many of the younger ones nowadays continue to believe that as a fact about God, but I dare say many more may find it easier to believe if I tell them the same about Google.
Most of you will agree without much hesitation that Google has indeed become smarter over the years. You will also agree that it is not just smarter; it has taken smartness to a completely different level with artificial intelligence and behaviour predictability, most often with uncanny insight.
But my contention is that Google, at least of late, has started becoming philosophical too. Now for at least a few of you, such a statement may merit some explanation or clarification.
Please allow me to explain.
Lately, I have begun to use Google Maps extensively as a GPS device. It is simply fantastic, to say the least. It has each street mapped out with unbelievable accuracy and it is amazing how quickly the maps get updated when a change or diversion happens on a particular road. Just thinking about the logistics of how the guys at Google manage to keep the maps updated is mind-boggling in itself. And all this is provided as a "free service" - of course, we all know that nothing is truly free and Google does have enough skin in the game and reaps more than sufficient rewards out of all this, to be able to make such features available on a "free" basis. I had never used a GPS device all these years, not at least until my wife took her driving license, when I realised quickly that it may not be a bad decision to invest in one. And so, I got hold of one of those Garmin devices and I had been using it all this while since, until our trip to Kerala last year. For it was on that trip that I realised the incredible potential of Google Maps; it was on that trip that I realised that Google Maps is a saviour on Kochi roads. For those who may not be aware, Kochi roads are notorious for traffic jams*
. But during our latest trip, Google Maps ensured that we were not stuck in a single jam; as soon as it sensed a jam, it would always divert us on to some unused, often unknown road and we would invariably end up avoiding the jam altogether. Google Maps was a saviour, to say the least!
When we returned to Singapore after our break, the new-found love affair with Google Maps continued and I promptly discarded my old Garmin device, which had been giving me intermittent problems anyway. I have now got into the habit of checking out the various route options on Google Maps before I set off anywhere, and I blindly follow Google's advice on the best route that can get me to the destination in the fastest time, avoiding hiccups and traffic jams along the way.
Driving has truly become idiot-proof and tension-free - you don't have to know anything, just key in the destination address or postal code and you can sit back and relax as a sweet voice guides you all the way to your destination.
Yesterday morning, Google prompted me take a slightly longer route to work, since there was a massive traffic jam due to an accident, on my usual route. Once again in my heart, I thanked the guys at Google. And when I reached office, Google flashed this message on the phone.
It had probably been flashing the same message every day, but I had not really noticed it, till yesterday.
The tone of the message is what hit me.
Even though a "well done!" was missing, the short crisp language really gave me the feel that Google was congratulating me on having successfully made it to work. Congratulations are usually due when something out of the ordinary happens. You don't congratulate someone on having finished lunch or on having a bath. Congratulations are usually extended when someone passes an exam or when someone wins a competition or gets a job or a promotion or when someone gets married or has a child or when someone buys a car or a house or some such significant event happens.
Or as Google sees it, when someone successfully makes it to work.
For you see, if I think about it, it is indeed a miracle that I was able to make it to work - in one piece and in good health and spirit. If I think about it, I could have been in the car that was caught in the accident that made me take the diversion along the longer route to work.
If I think about it, it is indeed a miracle that I have been able to wake up from my sleep this morning and have been given the privilege to see this new day in my life. It is indeed a miracle to be able to look around and see the beautiful world around me. It is indeed a miracle that I am blessed with a wonderful family and friends, who love, understand, accept and support me as I am. It is indeed a miracle that I am able to walk about and do the things that I love to do. It is indeed a miracle that as I write this note, my heart has beaten one more time and that I have been able to take in one more breath.
If you think about it, each moment in our lives is a miracle and is worthy of being congratulated.
Thanks Google for reminding me to look at the small events in my life and to appreciate them better. Thanks for reminding me not to take the people, the happenings and the things in my life ever for granted.
Yes, I made it to work and I am grateful for it.
* You can read more about Kochi and it's notorious jams here.