The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry) Hardcover – Mar 8 2011
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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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The book is an impressive synthesis of the current thinking on and around Google -- much of it applicable to any contemporary dot-com with runaway success. One of Siva's objections to the "googlization" of the online knowledge space is that while institutions like libraries and universities typically plan to be around in a hundred years, companies like Google do not necessarily have, or plan for, such staying power. This is a nicely contestable sentiment -- that, as a corporate entity, Google is inherently shorter lived then, say, the University of Virginia, or at least its values are less consistent over time. It sets up a deeper question of what mix of institutions ought to contribute to the world and serve as gateways to our accumulated knowledge, and with what ethos (ethoi?).
In the last section, Siva proposes a Human Knowledge Project. The name is derived from the Human Genome Project. It is intended to be a "global information ecosystem," essentially a Google by and for the public sphere: "The Human Knowledge Project should [be] open, public, global, multilingual, and focused. It should be sensitive to the particular needs of communities of potential knowledge users around the world, yet it should be committed to building a global system that can erase the gaps in knowledge that current exist between a child growing up in a poor village in South Africa and another growing up in a wealthy city in Canada." The Human Knowledge Project also builds on the criticism that Google's rise to such extreme prominence is due in part to the failure of the public sector; thus Siva's proposal is a straight argument for a transfer of power back from private to public hands.
A major difference between this idealized project and the internet (or Google) as it exists now is its central focus on existing libraries as knowledge hubs. One of Siva's central concerns about Google, which emerges in the sections on Google Books and Google Scholar, is its pre-emption of librarians as organizers of knowledge. In his other work -- see The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control Is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System -- Siva has sought to articulate a central role for librarians that some in the information studies community have yet to grasp. The Googlization of Everything is in some ways a sequel: a welcome contribution to our debates over the future of access to knowledge, one blending intimate knowledge of what librarians (and their digital corporate counterparts) actually do with a strong sense of what differences between them matter -- why the library remains of crucial importance as a mediating institution in a society awash in information.
I found the same his latest book, the "Googlization of Everything". The idea of "techno-fundamentalism" resonated deeply with me as I have struggled with efforts in my profession to abandon tried and true methods of librarianship and information science in the rush to embrace the latest gadget or newest technology. Indeed, American culture (and it could be argued Western culture as well) has become fascinated with all things tech to the point of techno-fundamentalism, or a blind faith in technology and its ability to solve all the world's problems. Technology has done great things for the human race, but has also had weighty consequences as well.
The author does not seek to destroy Google or even hope for its demise. Instead he argues that we need to take back the objects of our culture from Google and others who, in the name of technology, progress, faster search and access, would seek to monopolize them and make money from them. I appreciate Dr. Vaidhyanathan's vision for a Human Knowledge Project, and hope to assist him and others in making that a reality. True change will only come about through deliberation, debate, and collaboration. It will not be handed down from a "benevolent giant" like Google.
As the debate heats up and accelerates in internet time, it's a pleasure to turn to Siva Vaidhyanathan's The Googlization of Everything, a carefully considered take on the company composed over the past five years. After this week is over, no one is going to really care whether Google properly punished JC Penney for scheming its way to the top non-paid search slot for "grommet top curtains." But our culture will be influenced in ways large and small by Google's years of dominance, whatever happens in coming years. I don't have time to write a full review now, but I do want to highlight some key concepts in Googlization, since they will have lasting relevance for studies of technology, law, and media for years to come.
Dan Solove helped shift the privacy conversation from "Orwell to Kafka" in a number of works over the past decade. Other scholars of surveillance have first used, and then criticized, the concept of the "Panopticon" as a master metaphor for the conformity-inducing pressures of ubiquitous monitoring. Vaidhyanathan observes that monitoring is now so ubiquitous, most people have given up trying to conform. As he observes,
[T]he forces at work in Europe, North America, and much of the rest of the world are the opposite of a Panopticon: they involve not the subjection of the individual to the gaze of a single, centralized authority, but the surveillance of the individual, potentially by all, always by many. We have a "cryptopticon" (for lack of a better word). Unlike Bentham's prisoners, we don't know all the ways in which we are being watched or profiled--we simply know that we are. And we don't regulate our behavior under the gaze of surveillance: instead, we don't seem to care.
Of course, that final "we" is a bit overinclusive, for as Vaidhyanathan later shows in a wonderful section on the diverging cultural repsonses to Google Street View, there are bastions of resistance to the technology:
One search engine professional, Osamu Higuchi, posted an open letter to Google staff in Japan on his blog in August 2008. The letter urged Google staff to explain to their partners in the United States that Street View demonstrates a lack of understanding of some important aspects of daily life in Japan. Osamu urged Google to remove largely residential roads from Street View. "The residential roads of Japan's urban areas are part of people's living space, and it is impolite to photograph other people's living spaces," Osamu wrote. . . .
A person walking down the street peering into residents' yards would be watched right back by offended residents, who would consider calling the police to report such dangerous and antisocial behavior. But with Google Street View, the residents can't see or know who is peeping.39 Osamu's pleas and concerns were shared by enough others in Japan that by May 2009, Google announced it would reshoot its Street View images of Japanese cities with the cameras mounted lower, to avoid peering over hedges and fences.
There are a number of other examples in the book of technology being modified to adopt to cultural norms. But the dominant story is of cultural norms being reshaped by deployment of new technologies.
Progressives often cite "market failure" as a reason for regulation. But the term itself has a hidden laissez-faire bias, implying that markets generally succeed and that intervention is extraordinary. Vaidhyanathan balances the playing field by introducing the idea of the "public failure," which itself is parasitic on a larger vision of endeavors naturally performed or sponsored by government or civil society. As he explains,
[N]eoliberalism. . . .had its roots in two prominent ideologies: techno-fundamentalism, an optimistic belief in the power of technology to solve problems . . . and market fundamentalism, the notion that most problems are better (at least more efficiently) solved by the actions of private parties rather than by state oversight or investment.
Neoliberalism [included] . . . substantial state subsidy and support for firms that promulgated the neoliberal model and supported its political champions. But in the end the private sector calls the shots and apportions (or hoards) resources, as the instruments once used to rein in the excesses of firms have been systematically dismantled. . . . .
Google has deftly capitalized on a thirty-year tradition of "public failure," chiefly in the United States but in much of the rest of the world as well. Public failure, in contrast, occurs when instruments of the state cannot satisfy public needs and deliver services effectively. This failure occurs not necessarily because the state is the inappropriate agent to solve a particular problem (although there are plenty of areas in which state service is inefficient and counterproductive); it may occur when the public sector has been intentionally dismantled, degraded, or underfunded, while expectations for its performance remain high.
Vaidhyanathan's call for a "Human Knowledge Project" in response to this trend is one of the few tech policy proposals that is bold, ambitious, and comprehensive enough to address the challenges posed by privatized knowledge systems.
The major problem with his premises is that he seems to assume that it is Google's job to do what is in the public's best interest; to not be responsive to public desire but to recognize that we know now what we do and need someone to take care of us. It's a patronizing attitude. (V does say this is not his purpose--but the book is written as if it is). For example, he argues that Google "rewards us for our desires for immediate gratification at no apparent cost to us" as if Google should not do this. Maybe rewarding immediate gratification is "bad" in some moral absolute sense, but should Google be the one to determine this? Or V? What is a business's responsibility to the public? What should it be? He seems to be suggesting that Google is a power in and of itself rather than responsive to meeting the people's desires and expectations. It feels as if V is suggesting that we are all going to be pulled along with Google's goals, regardless of what we want. He acknowledges that Google is a product of and an influence on culture. But the criticism comes from a strong belief that their influence is beyond anything we've seen before and thus dangerous.
At the heart of Google (and of us), V argues is technofundamentalism: the belief that technology can fix anything. V extrapolates from this that our belief in technofundamentalism has led to lots of really bad decisions (big highways to solve congestion for example). But the alternative is also just as true--where would we be without big highways? Some see those as progress. V has chosen to see technofundamentalism as bad, and thus anything that espouses it is also bad. But that is a choice.
What I found most useful about the book is not its criticism of Google's agenda and apparent ability to take over our world if we aren't careful, but the information and history the book provides about how Google and the internet work technically. There is also lots of information about publishing, news aggregation, copyright, advertising, etc. and how these things work on the internet. I found this information to be fascinating.
Ultimately, I would recommend the book as more a history of internet searching and publishing (for the past 25 years or so) and an insightful look at Google behind the scenes, but I did not find it a convincing argument that we should be worried about Google (anymore than we should be worried about anything that is considered "progress").
For certain, I agree with the fact that google has incredible power upon all of us. A scary amount of power that in retrospect, I don't think any of us would willingly handover to a shareholder owned, profit driven multi-national corporation, which core widget product is the information it collects on us to sell to other just as big corporations. In that sense, I am now infinitely more cognizant of this new big brother we now have burgeoned into existence through our collective seed of trust. This was the author's goal truly. To open our eyes to this world we were now in. We aren't necessarily living in a open free world, but rather one owned by a corporation that in the future, could exercise its power over us and it all.
In the defense of google, I feel it has gotten to its top position because it was better than all the rest and added genuine value added to all of our lives many times the value that it extracts. Furthermore, as a person involved with many non-for-profit ventures funded ultimately by add and sponsorship dollars, just because google has to acquire green to produce its service and its using advertising to do so, does not mean that its instantly bad. Money is what makes this world go round, period. It's possible to argument since its unconstrained with financial woes, the firm can truly focus its efforts on its more altruistic, humanity improving motives of its social business, ala Mohammed Yunis though in an internet and tech space.
The author suggests a)greater awareness of google's power b)laws and regulations of google to ensure it always keeps our interests, rather than its shareholders, closer to its heart and c) a public utilitarian alternating system of Human Knowledge project to act as a competitor to Google, ultimately to provide us a choice because as it stands, we are at google's mercy. I agree with all of these suggestions and willing to support any action to move in making these realities. Choice is important, and as of right now, we have no true alternative choices.
My only real criticism of this literature is the writing style of the author. Often times, it comes off less as a carefully structure pose or critique, but rather like the rambling of a madman on a street corner yammering about the end times. It would lack structure, bounce from one idea to another, before ultimately returning back the first idea, even if the point was made clear long ago. If I wasn't aware of this fellow's work prior (or at least his very common last name, least in academia) I wouldn't have given his criticism much value. Ultimately, I felt this book probably could have a long New York Times article, rather than a book. Many points just went on for too long and felt forced.
However, the idea was compelling, and it's thought provoking discussion has left an indelible effect on how I view the world around me -- certainly less naively. 4 out of 5 stars.
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