Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Counting on Google

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 15, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

The Fed-Ex driver placed two gigantic Dell computer boxes on my front porch. I had been waiting for this day. I replaced my 386x computer with the 80-megabyte hard drive with a new Pentium computer containing a 1 Gigabyte hard drive and the latest Windows 95 operating system. The 19-inch monitor was so large that it hung out over the back of my desk. As I hooked up the wires and turned my new computer on for the first time, a current of excitement ran through me. Sitting on my desk was a state-of-the-art computer that was my portal to the world wide web.

After loading the Netscape Navigator software from my internet provider company, I sat at my desk with eager anticipation as I heard, “Pshhhkkkkkkrrrrkakingkakingkakingtshchchchchchchchcch*ding*ding*ding,” and the computer screen announced that I had connected. What would I search for now that I had the whole world at my fingertips? Using the InfoSeek search engine, I began soaking up information. It was after 3 a.m. when I finally pulled myself away from this magical information portal and went to sleep for a few hours before I had to go to work.

At about the same time, another story occurred halfway across the country at Stanford University. Larry Page and Sergey Brin met when Brin was assigned to show Page around Stanford. They disagreed about nearly everything during that first meeting, but by the following year, they started a partnership. Working from their dorm rooms, they built a search engine that used links to determine the academic importance of individual pages on the World Wide Web. They called this search engine Backrub.

Over the next couple of years, Page and Brin caught the attention of the academic community and Silicon Valley investors. In August 1998, after receiving an investment of $100,000, the team moved from the dorms to their first office: a garage in suburban Menlo Park, California. When they looked to name the company, they wanted something that spoke to the tremendous amount of information available as the World Wide Web was exploding. They decided on the word Googol. 

“Googol” got its name in 1938 when mathematician Edward Kasner picked the name for a number so large that it doesn’t have a significant role in mathematics. A googol is a 1 with one hundred zeros after it. There isn’t a googol of anything on Earth, not grains of sand, not drops of water in the oceans. It is an impossibly large number. Page and Brin were engineers and were familiar with the word googol. But they decided to modify it a little and came up with Google. Today, if you search the internet, you probably use the Google search engine. Even though more than twenty search engines are available, over ninety percent of users choose Google. 

The next time you search the internet and the familiar Google logo appears on the page, maybe you will remember the impossibly large number that gave Google its name. The largest number name that most of us use is trillion. But do we understand what a trillion is? When I hear that the United States is twenty-nine trillion dollars in debt, I have no fundamental concept of what that means. Twenty-nine trillion seconds equals 914,834 years. How can we wrap our minds around what such large numbers mean?

When people think of big numbers, the things used as symbols are interesting. Matthew 10:30 (NKJV) says, “but the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  So, how many hairs are on your head? According to the Harvard University website Bionumbers, the number of hairs on a human head range from 90,000 to 150,000. That seems like a number that we can understand. 

Stars and grains of sand are symbols of big numbers found in the Bible. In Genesis 22:17 (NET), God made Abraham a promise, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore.” Science writer David Blatner, in his book Spectrums, writes, “a group of researchers at the University of Hawaii, being well-versed in all things beachy, tried to calculate the number of grains of sand. They said if you assume a grain of sand has an average size, calculate how many grains are in a teaspoon, and then multiply by all the beaches and deserts in the world, the Earth has roughly seven thousand five hundred quadrillion grains.” That is a lot of grains of sand.

There is no way that I can wrap my mind around the concept of numbers like a trillion, quadrillion, and googol. But even a smaller number like eight billion is meaningless to me. I can read that any day now, the population of Earth will reach eight billion, but what does that mean? Eight billion people. It’s a considerable number. I know billions of people live on this planet, but I can’t comprehend what that means. 

I may not be able to comprehend large numbers, but God can. Even though God can understand numbers that I cannot, God doesn’t see the number; He sees faces. God sees the personal histories and heartaches, individual problems and potentials. He sees actual people with names. Each one lives in a particular place, wakes up each day, faces their issues, and deals with the obstacles that confront them. He loves each one of these eight billion people so much that he gave his only Son as a sacrifice for them.

Even though we might not understand the concepts of a billion, trillion, or googol, we can know that God loves the world. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16,17 (NKJV) 

Gentle Reader, God loves each one of the eight billion people on Earth, and that includes you. But when God looks at His children today, He sees billions of people selfishly divided and opinionated. He sees people who claim to follow Him but don’t love others. He wants us to do better. “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”1 John 4:7,8 (NLT) Eight billion people. It’s a vast number. But God loves them all. Let’s remember how much God loves us. All of us! We can count on Him all the way to a googol.

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