The Non-Judgmental Search Engine

The Non-Judgmental Search Engine

What is your deepest secret?  What are your interests?  How do you feel about current events?  What is your greatest fear?  What is your greatest weakness?  This blog is a book review on Bill Tancer’s Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters.  Of course, I will examine the book’s (unintentional?) spiritual insights, which are evident from a recommendation by TVWeek, who named Bill Tancer one of “12 to Watch” for 2008: “There once was a time when we used to share our deepest secrets with our hairdresser.  Now, we share those secrets with Google or Yahoo or  We tell Google what we want, who we’re interested in, how we are feeling.  We are what we search for.  That’s why Bill Tancer is in demand.”  Kirkus Reviews said, “InClick, he boils down those mouse-using multitudes to reveal valuable observations about […] the very human frailties that people expose in their online searches.”

Statistics are boring…

In my Digital Media class, one of my first assignments was to use the internet to gather information about my place of birth, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  This is an excerpt from that assignment:

For many people (like myself), demographics (yawn) are very useful (as a cure for insomnia). However, since demographics and economics are closely related, it is best to break out a couple of toothpicks, prop your eyelids open, and pay attention. The demographics for my hometown, Farmington Hills, Michigan, are included throughout this discussion post.

Since the population of my hometown, as of 2009, is 80,910, and since approximately 18% of them have an annual income of $150,000 or more, it is likely that a few thousand people are watching their favorite TV shows in high def or even the latest phenomena, 3D. My husband is legally blind in one eye, so 3D is right out. I couldn’t find statistics for one eyed people in Farmington Hills, but I did find stats on homeowners. 67% of the housing units are owned, not rented.

Statistics are exciting!

I tried my very best to make this information as interesting as possible, recognizing that perhaps a people-group, somewhere, might be very interested in reading statistics, and also recognizing that my classmates were not likely to be counted among that particular people group.  How much more interesting would it be to actually go to Farmington Hills and people watch, perhaps strike up a few conversations, visit some landmarks, etc.  The real stories are about the people behind the numbers.  I am much more interested in who these 80,000 are or whether some of that 67% are no longer homeowners because of the collapse of the housing market and the depression.  I would like to talk to them and find out if they have different worldview now, if they are devastated by the loss of their possessions and jobs, or if they have a renewed appreciation for the things that really matter.  I want to look Farmington Hillians in the eye.

Tancer’s Click demonstrates that statistics can be interesting after all.  He explores different ways the internet affects the way we experience the world, makes relevant observations about the relationships between the speed of technology adaptation and business success, and overwhelms the reader with the potential wealth of information that is now becoming available to us.  Tancer also moves past the numbers and into the motivations of the heart, demonstrating how individuals are influenced by information, and also how people leave a trail of information behind them.  For people who are interested in people, this is very exciting news.

Hello.  Please tell me about your porn habit.

In the past, research efforts have been hampered by the participant’s wariness of trusting a stranger with personal information, as well as the participant’s tendency to paint himself/herself in a positive light.  Tancer explains:

Imagine fielding the consumer survey aimed at estimating true porn consumption.  Maybe it would go something like this: The phone rings, perhaps at seven-thirty in the evening, just as your interview subject is sitting down to dinner.  “Hello, I’m conducting a survey on behalf of _____ market research firm.  Would you be willing to answer some questions about your interest in online pornography?”  This hypothetical interruption to your subject’s evening poses two problems: (1) Who would be willing to take such a survey, and (2) Could we trust the answers that the subject provided us with?

Tancer explores this idea further than I ever expected, demonstrating that online porn sites are less visited on Sundays and most visited on Fridays.  He introduces readers to Craig Gross, founder of “the #1 Christian porn site.”  Using the information gathered from 40,634 adult sites tracked by Hitwise, Tancer sees that 72.6% of visitors were male and 27.4% female.  He breaks down the top ten states with the most traffic to Adult sites (Ohio was number one).  Perhaps the most interesting statistic on adult sites is that there is a correlation between a decline in interest in online porn and an increase in interest in social networking.

The Affects of Anonymity on Research

The point here is not adult websites or xxxchurch, it is that Tancer had this information available to him, as a researcher, because people know that their online activity is anonymous (or at least it is supposed to be).  This is something that I noticed about two years ago, when I began blogging about the absurdity of the erroneous doctrine of eternal torment.  On a personal, professional, and emotional level, all hell broke loose for me as one who had been employed in a church office for five years and who was very involved in church activity.  One thing that really helped me to get through those dark days was the analytic program which showed me whether people were reading this blog.  The number of visits increased by six times the amount prior to my blogging about this subject, yet only a handful of people revealed their identity.  I did an experiment – I made my blog private, so that only those who registered could read it.  I did this only for a week or two, but during that time, the number of visits dropped to the previous norm.  As soon as I made them public again, the number of visits shot right back up.  What does this tell me?  That anonymity is very important to the orthodox evangelical crowd.  They really want to read the content, but they also really don’t want anyone else to know that they really want to read the content.  This is one reason why I found Click to be so intriguing.

“Search engines have become a new nonjudgmental place for us to ask questions we are increasingly less likely to ask each other.” – Bill Tancer

Other subjects in the book include pills, casinos, the half-life of negative information, seasonal consumer online search results, failed resolutions, false hope, celebrity worship, consumer generated media, the TV-internet connection, analytical predictions, new technology, and Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping point.” Perhaps the most interesting subject covered in this book is Chapter Six: What are you Afraid Of? and Other Telling Questions.  Tancer begins the chapter asking, “What are you afraid of?  It’s a simple question, but your answer may depend on who is asking the question or the setting in which you’re answering.”  This is so true, especially within the walls of a church.  For example, before I came out of the spiritual closet about my controversial beliefs, I did an experiment in one of my small group Bible study (although it was really a book study) classes by asking a few pointed questions in a row.  I never made any claims, I just asked the questions.  I was met with a hostile tone of voice and facial expression from the instructor of the class, whose goal seemed to be more focused on redirecting the conversation back to the approved study materials than on exploring the questions.  In another class, I did the same thing, only this time, I expressed my beliefs.  The response was mixed, but the tension in the room was so strong I could have cut a doughnut out of it and dipped it in my coffee.  Within a few days of that class, I was called into the pastor’s office and instructed on how, when, where I was allowed to discuss these ideas, if at all.  Apparently, someone in the class had tattle-tailed on me.  And this particular class was supposed to be a “safe” class, where everyone agreed in the beginning to keep our discussions private – “what happens in the Xxxxxxx class stays in the Xxxxxxx class,” they said.  The environment (and social constructs in that environment) of question asking and answering is hugely important, when it comes to spiritual discussion.

Top 15 social “fear of” queries

For a person who is considering the idea that perhaps the orthodox traditions about eternal torment in Hell are erroneous, fear can keep him or her from exploring this and other important questions.  Tancer’s list of search terms for the top fifteen social “fear of” queries demonstrates my point.  I have highlighted the fears that I feel are directly or indirectly related to asking hard questions in a hostile institutional church environment:

1. Intimacy

2. Rejection

3. People

4. Success

5. Crowds

6. Failure

7. Sex

8. Commitment

9. Public Speaking

10. Being alone

11. Love

12. Girls

13. Falling in love

14. Abandonment

15. Broken heart

I look forward to conducting some research on internet searches regarding Christian Universalism, The Larger Hope, Amazing Hope, The Victorious Gospel, Universal Salvation, Universal Reconciliation, or whatever you want to call it.  Since I believe that the internet is to this generation what the printing press was the Reformation, I also believe that internet research will likely offer some strong evidence that orthodox evangelicals and other spiritual police do not hold as much clout in this world as it seems, that this Glorious Message is spreading despite their efforts to suppress it, and that people are looking into church history and discovering that they have been mislead by others who have been mislead by others who have been mislead…  I’ve bookmarked Tancer’s website for future reference, and I recommend Click for anyone who would like to read a very unique kind of book on statistics.

  • Sisterlisa April 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    The more people who blog about it, the easier people will be able to find the truth. 🙂

    • Mary Vanderplas April 4, 2011 at 6:20 am

      It seems to me that you paint will a broad brush everyone who does not subscribe to the doctrine of universalism. I happen to be one of these, though I rather resent being dubbed spiritual police or judgmental or any other such label. I come by my beliefs honestly and I happen to think that there is as much biblical weight on the side of a final judgment as there is on the side of universalism. I don’t think universalism does justice to God’s….justice, for one thing. What about the Adolf Hitler’s of the world and others who are bent on hostility to God’s loving purposes for humanity? Unless such people have a dramatic change of heart and life – which I don’t rule out – will they be welcomed into eternal glory? Also, it’s hard for me to accept that everyone – even those who don’t want to be – will be “coerced” into entering the kingdom any more than that some – against their will – might be consigned to eternal damnation. I don’t presume to know exactly what will happen in the end. Judgment belongs to God. But this isn’t the same as saying that there will be no judgment, no final accounting, no price to pay. What that price might be, I don’t know, nor do I want to know. At any rate, I am not out to say who’s in and who’s out. And I believe that the gift is freely available to all. The fact that some don’t accept it and won’t accept it seems clear to me – which informs my belief that in the end not everyone – to God’s great sadness – will be saved.

  • Wendy April 8, 2011 at 3:13 am

    Universalism does not eliminate Judgement, in fact, it raises the bar. And this is according to Christ who warned ‘ believers’ several times they will be judged and punished if necessary. In God’s Kingdom, there is no favoritism. Everyone will be judged.. For all face the judgement seat and be held accountable for the good and the bad they do…Luke 12:47, 1 Pt 4:6, Rom14:10, Col 3:25.

  • […] The Non-Judgmental Search Engine – Wendy says: […]

  • Kenneth May 7, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    i guess this is off topic but i find myself engaged in the media. i tend to always go to the conservative side to get my “updates” on whats going on in the world. in the morning when i wake up and when i come home. its either or I guess i need to realize that God is in control and what is going to happen is going to happen on His watch. i am more in tuned with a conservative point of view but it depresses me when i read about the stories of the day. should i just accept the fact that nothing can be done on my part because God is running things? I guess i should just love and not judge our leaders and the evil in our world. i need some help

    • admin May 8, 2014 at 12:13 am

      Do you feel that by keeping yourself informed you are “doing something”? The reason my question is that you ask, “should i just accept the fact that nothing can be done on my part because God is running things?”

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