The post read: Google Fortune Telling: what does your future look like? Facebook was informing me that two people had recently shared the link.
The link opened a page called betagoogle.com that looked like Google’s homepage, but with the subtitle “Fortunetelling.” In the search box: “Type here a question about your future.” The “Search” button read, “Predict my future.” I followed the instructions and began typing, “Will I get into my early decision school?”
But before I even tapped the “L” key, Google began filling in my question for me. I was awestruck. How did Google know?! Wait. No. It wasn’t my question Google was typing, but rather a question that should have been mine.
When the cursor stopped self-ambulating, the question read, “Where can I find a safe place?” The suggested searches included questions like, “Will I be reunited with my family?” and, “Is there a place where they will accept me?” I sat staring at my screen, confused, utterly lost, until the page automatically redirected after twelve seconds: “Of course we can’t predict your future! But 60 million refugees ask themselves every day if they have a future at all.”
Syria. Of course. I’d never felt more guilty, more selfish, more embarrassed. And I imagine that many, if not most people felt the same way after visiting this website.
Betagoogle has baited Americans with our weakness—self-indulgence—and reeled us into a trap of guilt and embarrassment. In this way, it has raised millions of dollars, and more importantly, awareness, of the situation in Syria.
It shouldn’t be this way.
It’s not that I’m not excited that more people probably know about the Syrian Civil War and subsequent refugee crisis, and more money is being donated to the refugees and their wellbeing. But as citizens of a prominent country in the international realm, we shouldn’t have to be deceived or “guilt-tripped” into becoming aware, and subsequently into taking action to improve the situation at hand — whatever that may be.
Alexa.com, an Amazon company for website analytics, indicates that betagoogle.com is currently the 5573rd most-visited site in the US, and that Americans make up 46.2% of all international site visitors. To put that in perspective, Indians make up 15.9%, Canadians 4.3%, Norwegians 2.9%, and citizens of the UK 2.2%.
Another site used for website analytics, SEMrush.com, is currently predicting that if web traffic stays relatively constant, Betagoogle will see 51,600 American visitors in the next month. This means that three months after the site’s August launch, 1,720 more Americans are self-interested enough to seek knowledge about their own futures.
Did Google truly feel that the best way to reach people was by creating a website cloaked in a self-interested ploy? Does it really take selfishness to incite Americans to selflessness?
Some might say no. The US population is about five times that of the UK, so the US would naturally have a higher percent contribution in total world visitors to betagoogle.com. But India’s population is almost four times that of the US, and yet its percentage contribution is approximately a third of the US percentage. Access to internet in each country is similar. The population of the UK is almost twice that of Canada and almost thirteen times that of Norway, and yet has lower percent contributions than each.
And yes, there are other reasons that one might visit the site — I visited it at least six separate times just to write this. But the general trend is clear.
Our relative self-focus has secluded us from world affairs. I’m focused on getting into college. For others, the distraction might lie in relationships, self-image, or pursuit of wealth. Is it not part of our duty as Americans to be aware of all of our surroundings? Maybe some newspapers should be free. Maybe public institutions with TVs should be required to show the news for x hours a day. Change that will allow us to shift our focus to helping fellow humans to survive, let alone live, is crucial.
What has Blind Brook done to encourage worldliness? The only class in which I’ve ever gotten a true exposure to current events was Global 10, when we had quarterly presentations on a recent news story of our choice. This year, my only class in which Syria has been mentioned is AP Language. Our teachers aren’t leaving room for such discussion in their curriculum or time for it in their lesson plans. Our morning announcements include “upcoming events” that have already happened, but nothing about the 30 new refugees (according to Betagoogle) that left their lives behind in the minute since the announcements started.
As for myself, since experiencing Betagoogle for the first time, I have paid more attention to news regarding refugees. I watched a video that summarized the conflict, starting with its underlying origins and comprehensively covering the complexity of the topic. It’s called, “Syria’s War: A 5-Minute History.” Yes. It’s five minutes. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Watch it. On your phone, your iPad. Watch it while you’re waiting for likes on Instagram or for someone to Snap you back. Watch it when you simply cannot take another Geometry proof or McCarvill problem set. Make an attempt to at least know what the conflict’s about.
No, Google unfortunately cannot predict our individual futures. Nor, I believe, can anyone or anything. The least we all can do is try to understand, because some knowledge of the future needs nothing beyond common sense. And common sense says, if we do nothing more than we’re doing now, the situation is guaranteed to never change.