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The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry) Paperback – March 13, 2012
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From the Inside Flap
"While there have been other books chronicling the company's amazing rise, I know of none that looks so broadly and smartly, soberly but entertainingly, at the implications of this giant new global fact of life. Siva Vaidhyanathan has set the table brilliantly for one of the most important conversations of the early 21st century."- Kurt Andersen, author of Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America and radio host, Studio 360
"Vaidhyanathan is everything you could want in a cultural critic: funny, fantastically readable, and insightful as hell. It's always a treat when a new Vaidhyanathan comes out."Cory Doctorow, author of For the Win and co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net)
"Siva Vaidhyanathan's lively, thoughtful, and wide-ranging book makes clear, in detail, how Google is reshaping the way we live and work. He finds much to admire, but also challenges us to not only use Google's services, but to go beyond them to create a new and genuinely democratic information order."Anthony Grafton, author of Codex in Crisis
A provocative and irreverent book that aims to knock the Google-dust out of our eyes and teach us to be much more aware of the ruthless logic of Google’s growing power over how we view information and understand our world.”- Pamela Samuelson, Berkeley Law School
"This is a critically important book because it's really about the Googlization of All of Us. This is a brilliant meditation on technology, information, and consumer inertia, as well as an ambitious challenge to change how, where, why, and what we Google. Vaidhyanathan forces us to think long and hard about taking responsibility for what we all know and how we know it."Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor of Slate Magazine
This is such an important bookcourageous and wise, with not an ounce of blather or hyperbole. Vaidhyanathan reminds us that We are not Google’s customers: we are its products,’ and then explores the many profound implications of this reality. It’s going to be a long Age of Google, and we’re going to need this book throughout.” - David Shenk, author of Data Smog and The Genius in All of Us
A powerful and gripping tour de force. Siva Vaidhyanathan uses Google to examine our capacity for blind faith and to worship innovation as an end in itself. You cannot read this book and remain unstirred.”-Tim Wu, author of The Master Switch and Professor, Columbia Law School
"This is an important and timely topic, and Vaidhyanathan's head and heart are in the right place to guide the public through the thickets of 'googlization'."Paul Duguid, co-author of The Social Life of Information
"Finely written and engaging, this is a book for anyone who has used Google."Toby Miller, author of Makeover Nation: The United States of Reinvention
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But his book goes well beyond simply Google-bashing and serves as a fusillade against what he considers really "harmful or dangerous" which is "blind faith in technology and market fundamentalism." Even though he admits that no one forces us to use Google and that (as with more other companies and services) consumers are also able to opt-out of most of its services or data collection practices, Vaidhyanathan argues that "such choices mean very little" because "the design of the system rigs it in favor of the interests of the company and against the interests of users." But, again, he says this is not just a Google problem. Apparently everyone is scheming against consumers using the myth of "choice." "Celebrating freedom and user autonomy is one of the great rhetorical ploys of the global information economy," Vaidhyanathan says. "We are conditioned to believe that having more choices--empty through they may be--is the very essence of human freedom. But meaningful freedom implies real control over the conditions of one's life."
Vaidhyanathan doesn't really connect the dots to tell us how Google or any of the other evil capitalist overlords have supposedly conspired to take away such "real control" over the conditions of our lives. Instead, he just implies that any "choice" they offer us are "false," "empty," or "irrelevant" choices and that he and other elites can help us see through the web of lies (excuse the pun) and chart a better course.
Sadly, such elitist thinking is all too common in many recent books about the Internet's impact on society. See recent books by Andrew Keen, Mark Helprin, Lee Siegel and even to some extent Jaron Lanier. But these critics simply don't give humanity enough credit and they utterly fail to recognize how humans excel at adapting to change.
Regardless, when it comes to solutions to what most of would consider the non-problem of excessive consumer choice, Vaidhyanathan suggests that we should more carefully plan technological progress to ensure that (a) no harms come from it and, (b) that all benefit equally from its riches when it occurs. More specifically, progress needs to be centrally planned through a political process so that "we" have more of a say about the future.
Although he is short on details about whom the technocratic vanguard will be that will lead the effort to take back the reins of power, he's at least got a name for it and plan of action. Vaidhyanathan calls for the creation of "The Human Knowledge Project" to "identify a series of policy challenges, infrastructure needs, philosophical insights, and technological challenges with a single realizable goal in mind: to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible."
Although this is already spontaneously happening in the marketplace, Vaidhyanathan says, "it's better to have these things argued in a deliberative forum than decided according to the whims of market forces, technological imperatives, and secretive contracts." His call for a centralized vision and plan of action also comes down to his fundamental distrust of market processes in information and his over-arching faith in the wisdom of the technocratic elite to chart a more sensible path forward. "It's more important to do it right than to do it fast. It's more important to have knowledge sources that will work one hundred years from now than to have a collection of poor images that we can see next week."
But when Vaidhyanathan says "it's more important to do it right," the operational assumption is that we already know what "it" is and how to do it "right." And when he suggests "it's more important to have knowledge sources that will work one hundred years from now," it suggest that somewhere out there a more enlightened path exists and that he and some other elites in the Human Knowledge Project apparently possess a map to guide us to it.
But there's absolutely no way any of us could know which "knowledge sources" will work one hundred years from now or even 10 years from now, for that matter. That is precisely where markets come in. Organic, bottom-up, unplanned experimentation is valuable precisely because of the limitations of human knowledge and planning. Wikipedia, for example, isn't the product a highly planned, centralized vision set forth by some massive information bureaucracy. I doubt a "Human Knowledge Project" could have designed such a thing from scratch 10 years ago. Instead, they would have likely started with Encyclopedia Britannica and Encarta as models and then spent billions trying to figure out how to make them better. Also, Vaidhyanathan never bothers considering how expanded the horizons of state power in the ways he wishes might become an open invitation for even more of the corporate shenanigans he despises. After all, history teaches us that regulatory capture is all too real.
Vaidhyanathan's bleak view of consumers and the course of technological progress is unwarranted. There's never been a period in human history when we've had access to more technology, more information, more services, more of just about everything. While we humans have wallowed in information poverty for the vast majority of our existence, we now live in a world of unprecedented information abundance and cultural richness. It's always easy to suggest that there is "a better path," Vaidhyanathan does here, but the path we're on right now isn't looking so bad and does not require the radical prescriptions he calls for.
You can find my complete review of Vaidhyanathan's book on the Technology Liberation Front blog.
He is a status-quo, establishmentarianist that wants you to fear Google like the Roman Church wanted you to fear the printing press and Bible reading. He never really says to trust AltaVista, Northern Light, FAST, WAIS, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo!, AOL, Westlaw, Lexis, or any of the other myriad of search tools and portals before Google proved its superiority. He just says don't trust Google.
Well, yes, and "don't trust Amazon," which he claims has a "government subsidy" to aid and abet book buyers avoiding local sales tax. He calls the absence of a tax a "subsidy." He says Google and Amazon are bad for education, publishers, authors, public libraries. He is completely backwards. More books are authored, published, and sold than there ever were before Google and Amazon changed the game.
This guy seems like someone focused on all the drawbacks of sliced bread and none of the advantages. He dislikes Google because it is not a state solution.
Librarians first discovered, used, and evangelized for Google. Ask the author, "Who verifies the accuracy, balance, and comprehensiveness of the work product that is delivered at the Library Reference Desk?" Does anybody really ever know if and when the Librarian is wrong?
We had a case in Florida where a sailboat and passengers were lost at sea because the tide tables reported from the library reference desk where from an incorrect source selected by the librarian. Do you ever check or question the veracity of your public librarian?
The government and its socialized libraries never thought up an index to the web. They never imagined a fulltext searchable database of books. Wisely they saw its value instantly and were early adopters, avoiding the Chicken Littles who foretold librarian obsolescence.
The only disappointment from Google is that they did not seize the opportunity to once and for all settle the matter of the Fair Use Doctrine for the benefit of all mankind and upset the apple carts of the Luddite rights holders.
Mickey Mouse STILL in copyright! Get real.
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