Google Me, Google You

Everyone's doing it! 

Internet search engines, like Google, have become a part of our global culture, at least among those everywhere who are internet savvy. People are entering every kind of topic imaginable in search of information. Sometimes, of course, they enter names, in search of personal information. On occasion, people enter their own names to see what will come up. Depending on who you are and what you've done, you may find something about yourself, or about someone else with your name. Most know that internet information is not always reliable, but it's usually interesting nonetheless. Of course, people who already have a presence on the internet, probably won't be too surprised with what turns up. But you just never know. 

I was surprised the other day when I “googled” my name. It may sound like a vain thing to do, but I was having new business cards made with a variety of information on them, so I thought I'd check out online what would come up if someone had access to this information. I entered only my surname and the main name of the company I work with. Among a few results bringing up articles I’ve written in the past, and a few others entirely unrelated to me, was a link to a monthly newsletter put out by a publishing house in Lahore, Pakistan. (I've never been to Pakistan, and I had no idea what this was about.) I clicked on the link because, well, of course I was curious, and I could see in the Google result not only the full name (all four words) of the Canadian company I work with but also my surname preceded by my first name and my two middle initials. It was too exact, and too strange. What was even stranger, as the webpage downloaded in front of me, was that the newsletter was almost entirely in a language I cannot read, an Arabic-looking script, probably Urdu, the language of Pakistan and parts of North India.

So I'm sitting there, looking at the article, seeing mostly incomprehensible script but with a smattering of English words, like my full name and the name of my company. Yes, quite eerie, actually. Below that, as I scrolled down the article, were a few other words like “sonship”, “atonement”, “Trinity” and “Christianity.” Very interesting. As I look further, there are also a couple quotes from the Bible. With those last few clues, I can figure out pretty quickly that the piece is about a conversation I've had with a Muslim. I feel a little uncomfortable, not knowing what else it says about me or the conversation, whether positive or negative. But as I think more about the words and their context, I think back a few months to a particular visit I had with a prominent Muslim teacher in Delhi named Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a man who has written many books and who has a strong presence on the internet. A few months back, a friend of mine from our neighborhood had taken me to meet with this Maulana and we had talked about these kinds of things. Afterward, I had left him with my business card. It was a very positive experience for me at the time. I hoped now that, if the article on the internet was a reflection of that conversation, it was similarly positive in its tone. 

The aforementioned Maulana had actually become a friend of mine, meaning that we had since met on other occasions as well. A few weeks ago, in fact, I was very pleased that he had been willing to participate in a public dialogue that I had helped to organize, which was focused on the peacemaking efforts of Muslims and Christians. That event was also, as far as I could tell, a very positive experience for those involved.

Still, the webpage in front of me was clouded in mystery. I showed it to my wife, who was equally bewildered, and maybe a little nervous. We are living in the days when it’s perhaps not so popular to have unexplainable links to Pakistan. Surprisingly, I wasn’t too worried. In fact, it seemed rather exciting to me. After all, I really had nothing to hide. I don’t have any shady ties to Pakistan and most people who know me know that I quite enjoy engaging others in conversation about faith and spirituality.

I forwarded the link to a couple of my friends in Delhi. One of them, a foreigner, was quite intrigued and suggested that I forward it to a mutual friend in Canada who reads Urdu. The other friend that I sent it to was the one from my neighborhood who had initially introduced me to the Maulana. Within a couple days, a reply came from Canada confirming that the article was friendly and, as I had suspected, merely described the conversation that I had had with the Maulana. My local friend confirmed the same.

My worries, if any, were quelled. The excitement had waned. Peace was intact. This time, my encounter with Google had only turned up something real, something friendly. Thank you, God.


Dave Manuel said...

Well my friend, I too have done some name-googling but no connections to Pakistan for me yet. Good and interesting writing, keep it up.

maureensklassen said...

Good story Mark, and an encouragement to always keep our conversation honourable, and retain our transparency and integrity before God and man.
Keep up the blogging and the Googling!
Your mother.