“Is Google God?” asked New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman a while back, and it appears the verdict is in. Last week’s launch of Google Maps whipped up a chorus of geekish hosannas so devout you half expect to get to the site and come face-to-face with Christ on a Segway. That the actual content turns out to be, well, MapQuest, basically—flashier, more user-friendly, but the same familiar product in every way that matters—only underlines the point. Gearheads aren’t loving Google Maps so much for what it does as for what it confirms: Google’s accelerating transformation from mere search engine into the next best thing to deity—a collective, universal memory.
Seriously. Even before Google’s IPO bathed the company in cash, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were vowing “to make all of the world’s information accessible to anyone with a Web browser,” and Page was openly contemplating how cool it would be to have a Google chip implanted in your brain. Post-IPO, the company has launched a slew of expansions, among them Google Video (TV programs searchable by closed-caption text), Google Desktop Search (sift through your own hard drive), and the ambitious Google Print (love child of a recent deal to digitize and index the contents of half a dozen major university libraries). Wherever will it end? Google Public Surveillance Cams? Google Personal Genome Maps? Google Where the Fuck Are My Keys? Even that brain chip idea isn’t sounding so wacky anymore. Google has already become a kind of mental prosthesis, lazily relied on for feats of recall until it comes to feel as much a part of our minds as not. And this too might be taken as a sign of Google’s incipient divinity—except that some of us don’t even get that intimate with God.