The Googlization of Everything

Those who know me well often joke that I’d make a good spokesperson for a Google ad. I can’t help it if Google has changed my life (and I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way). The google desktop app has saved my writing life more times than I care to mention, and google calendar is the means by which my husband and I can always convince each other to attend otherwise resisted events (“Oh, you couldn’t make it? I had no idea. Your google calendar said you were free!”)

So, of course, my curiosity piqued when I recently read about Siva Vaidhyanathan’s recent book deal with the University of California Press. siva.gif

Per Publisher’s Weekly:

THE GOOGLIZATION OF EVERYTHING: How one company is transforming culture, commerce and community – and why we should worry, showing how Google is taking on governments, organizations and entire industries – and the implications of Google knowing more about us than we know about it.

(The book began as an open book experiment sponsored by the Institute for the Future of the Book, where Vaidhyanathan is a fellow, and was subsequently picked up for publication.)

Vaidhyanathan is a rising cultural historian and media scholar whose two previous books Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity and The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System have met with wide praise.

He is approaching the book as both a fan and as a critic, he says at his website: “I am in awe of all that Google has done and all it hopes to do. I am also wary of its ambition and power.”In a talk titled “The Googlization of Everything” that he gave last week at Penn State, Vaidhyanathan used the example of a google search result of the word “Siva” (the #1 result is the Smashing Pumpkins 1991 music video for “Siva,” not the Hindu god of the same name) to raise the question of just how universal Google actually is.

From an article in Penn State’s campus paper The Collegian Online:

“The Smashing Pumpkins were a once relevant band from Chicago,” Siva Vaidhyanathan said. “There are a billion Hindus … You would think that would be the most important thing. This gives us some indication that the Google universe does not map to the rest of the world.” …

[If you run the search yourself, a list of his books comes up first under Google Books, then the Smashing Pumpkins, then a wikipedia write-up on “Shiva” (the more common spelling for the Hindu god of destruction), then his website. Hmmm….]

From the same article:

“Google actually has a pretty profound and perhaps disturbing role in what we consider to be valuable, true and important … “Millions, perhaps billions, of people use Google everyday. We are not Google’s consumers; we are Google’s products. The advertisers are the consumers,” Vaidhyanathan said, [criticizing Google’s collection of detailed records and user information.] … “Google knows everything about many of us and a lot about almost all of us. Google knows your interests, your passions, maybe your fetishes.” Vaidhyanathan pointed to Google’s official mission statement: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.” “It’s a stunning mission statement for any company,” he said. “But it’s the universality we have to question. How universal is Google? We know it doesn’t work exactly the same way in China.”

Vaidhyanathan’s starting point is that Google is a part of our lives and that we talk about it as though it were Divine — think of the good versus evil paradigm that has been set up in the google universe — but that it is something we need to take a closer look at, especially when it comes to consumer surveillance and copyright.

From another interesting article at the U. Va. website: “Discussing the role of the consumer, Siva notes another Google illusion – that of the free service. We pay for Google with our data – our searching habits, our surfing habits – and this fuels Google’s cash cow, personalized advertising.” [link]

The book will be out sometime next year, and in the meantime, we’ll all keep using our various google apps and accounts more than ever … won’t we?

22 thoughts on “The Googlization of Everything

  1. Very interesting. I’m going to xerox this article and fedex it to everyone I know.

  2. I have to say, I’m a Google lover myself. And I’ve definitely noticed that the hyperlink ads at the top of my gmail window are more and more appealing depending on what I’ve been searching lately. And while the thought of Google somehow logging my tastes is a bit worrying, I can’t help but admire how smart it is. Isn’t it the natural evolution of advertising to become more effective? And what better way than being able to cater to an individual’s tastes?

    As far as his critique of Google’s mission statement, I find him looking too hard for a convenient answer to support his position over any actual intent of meaning from that phrase. After all, a ‘universally accessible’ Google is simply an indication of the free, Internet-ready platform that Google is. And I don’t know that I would want a truly ‘universal’ google search as he would describe it. After all, what the heck am I going to do with results in Chinese?

  3. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it… does Google know?

    I try not to think of Google as a bad thing. I use Google countless times daily. Actually… iGoogle which is basically “Pimp your Google”. That, plus Google Calendar and GMail… not to mention that I eat Frosted Google for breakfast and occassioanlly have a pint of Google with dinner.

    Where was I going with this?

    Oh yes… as long as Google doesn’t threaten to kill me, they’re all good in my book (which you will hopefully one day be able to Google).

  4. I can’t help it if Google has changed my life

    Gogol has saved my life. My thesis was supervised by gogol (okay 90% gogol, 10% me). And all my collaborators are gogol. And everything I’ve learnt in the last 10 years has been from gogol. But do I let on. Noooo. That too I learnt from gogol.

    Our institutions of high and not so high learning are safe. Gogol does their job, no one talks about it. Everyone is happy. Thanks Gogol. I changed your name. Since we are such good pals I think I can take such liberties.

  5. Siva’s example is not a great one. On google.co.in, for example, Tamil film Siva beats the god and Smashing Pumpkins are at number five. Incidentally, in India, Google.co.in (#2) has a higher Alexa ranking than google.com (#4). [link] When the more commonly used — and correct — spelling Shiva is searched, the wikipedia write-up is number one on both domains. Also “and this fuels Google’s cash cow, personalized advertising” is off. Google’s cash cows Adwords (~65%) and Adsense(~35%)are primarily keyword-based bidding systems. Google’s focus on personalization has been more around organic search results than ads.

  6. Can Google focus on things like solving crime, afterall, the information is out there, if google can access it, it can be figured out who commited the crime. And if they get access to all the Surveillance cameras….oh boy.

  7. So, of course, my curiosity piqued

    Out of genuine curiosity, is that the common usage? I always thought it was “my curiosity was piqued”?

    when I recently read about Siva Vaidhyanathan’s recent book deal with the University of California Press.

    I bet Prof. Parker can cough one up in no time.

  8. “they’re all good in my book (which you will hopefully one day be able to Google).”

    Sure thing, make your blog public, we will know now.

  9. 5 · dipanjan said

    Siva’s example is not a great one. On google.co.in, for example, Tamil film Siva beats the god and Smashing Pumpkins are at number five. Incidentally, in India, Google.co.in (#2) has a higher Alexa ranking than google.com (#4). [link] When the more commonly used — and correct — spelling Shiva is searched, the wikipedia write-up is number one on both domains. Also “and this fuels Google’s cash cow, personalized advertising” is off. Google’s cash cows Adwords (~65%) and Adsense(~35%)are primarily keyword-based bidding systems. Google’s focus on personalization has been more around organic search results than ads.

    dipanjan points out a critical fact. Vaidhyanathan uses a crafty argument that tries to raise people’s hackles by invoking religious/cultural pride ‘My God is lesser than an (amazing) rock band?’. The proper and much more common word ‘Shiva’ does turn up the expected sites, without any ads.

    Surely it does not take a brain evolved more than a flatworm’s to not click on those (enticing?) ad links. Google does not send a hand out of that computer screen that clicks on ad links for you. Have you seen a single television or print ad for any Google product? Think about it in this way – Amul is almost another word for butter in India; Cadbury’s is synonymous with chocolate. And to give another example closer to this discussion, what about Microsoft? What about Apple? Every iPod sold means another copy of iTunes installed. So if a corporation is huge in whatever it does, should we start worrying? Google’s only fault is that it is great at many things, rather than one! Many people (I don’t know why) were ‘concerned’ about their appearance in the 3D Street View on Google Maps. Me? I was overjoyed to show a 3D image of me standing outside my lab to mom, halfway around the world!

    I had almost written ‘We need to take a balanced look’ … but being the Google-fan that I am, I scratched it out ;)

    1. It’s “Shiva”. Someone searches with a wrong spelling is cries that he didn’t get the right results — not Google’s fault!

    2. So what Siva shows the song first ? There are a billion Hindus – but how many have access to the web? Higher fraction of people looking for “siva” are (in my opinion) are actually looking for the song.

    3. So what it shows you the ads ? You’re not bound to click them! It’s just there – it’s not even those annoying flash ads. Just some text. Why are you so jealous that Google is earning money!?

  10. I like Google, but I think the criticism (while perhaps poorly explained in the “Siva” context) is valid. I remember when Google decided to start digitizing public-access documents I kept wondering where the accountability structure would be to ensure that their project remained “free” (as we know it) to the public. I understand that they provide a variety of services, and that their motto is “Don’t be evil,” but I think it’s naive to assume that the folks at Google are so altruistic that they, or their predecessors, will not choose to pursue actions that are evil, depending on what side of the topic you’re on.

    Anyway, thanks for the link, Sandhya!

  11. In South India, most commonly spelling is ‘Siva’ not ‘Shiva’ (opposite is true in North India). So correct spelling depends on where you are spelling it :) .

  12. Today is the big earnings day for Google which is particularly important to see if the “Google’s cash cow, personalized advertising” is actually working.

  13. Rahul: Your curiosity got the better of me, so I I asked Anu Garg of wordsmith.org about this, and here’s what he had to say:

    In the active voice, the sentence would be written as: “This book deal piqued my curiosity.” The sentence below is constructed in passive voice, so ideally it should be: “My curiosity was piqued …” However, in the informal context of a blog entry I wouldn’t worry too much about it. It’s common to drop words in a conversational setting, for example, “You got mail” which should really be “You have got mail” (or “You have mail”).

    However, I did a google search on “my curiosity piqued” and found that it is used on many occasions as an opening clause, to modify a subject, for example:

    My curiosity piqued, I called the FBI employee, a.k.a. “really a spy,� to ask about this apparent breach of basic tradecraft.
  14. Google is just a tool albeit indispensable for many. A tool by itself is not dangerous but it is the usage of the tool that characterizes it’s “dangerousness”. Technology will continue to evolve and as more assets go digital and connectivity gets more ubiquitous we will have other tools that will also emerge along with solutions.

  15. Another Microsoft stooge doing a “hate piece” on Google? As somebody who has been through the process of interviewing for a job Google and declined an offer due to monetary reasons, I say yes Google is cheap and it definitely is evil. Damn those Perl people!!

  16. Google . . . . . . . Dangerous?

    There’s no shortage of rhetoric being tossed about Google’s way, especially with respect to how dangerous it is, how evil or invasive it may be, how it manipulates the public, and how “destructive” it really is. I’m going to take a somewhat different stance here, not so much in defense of Google, but rather what it is we should really be focused on with regards to “Dangerous Corporations”, especially in 2011.

    So Google is dangerous? First of all, how dangerous can it possibly be? Second, how dangerous can it get considering the fact that it doesn’t create anything tangible? Some people who blog or post replies to blogs won’t explain why it’s dangerous, only that it engages in strange and conspicuous business practices, or that it engages in mysterious activities and/or full fledged propaganda. Think so?

    The fact is companies come and go, some get absorbed, some get passed by, some have an eminent failure for their business plan, and some can’t see around the next corner. A few grow to immense proportions. And size often causes alarm with some people whether it be Google, Microsoft, General Electric, AT&T, US Steel, The East India Trading Company, Wal Mart, or Nike. Some of that alarm comes with a solid foundation based upon ugly facts especially if a large corporation leaves behind a ghost town in its business wake. But size shouldn’t necessarily draw too much alarm if that corporation doesn’t produce anything tangible even if it has in fact become a Mega-Corporation. Similar to Facebook, you can’t touch what Google primarily does in function. So size isn’t a big issue with me knowing that first, Google might be the clear cut favorite for search engine use right now, but there are still some players out there such as Bing and Yahoo. Second, Google provides a service not a product, and many of the services it does provide are still free. And that’s important. And so long as those services remain free I find it difficult to go off onto any super critical tangent especially when I’m drawing value out of what it provides. The fact is nobody is being forced to use Google. There are alternatives.

    If you want to consider danger, then consider this: Exxon/Mobil and British Petroleum are easy to criticize given their history and what it is that they do. And not lost to many people is their advertising machinery, especially evident when they blanket television screens with the soft look of fresh and sometimes young innocent looking faces, endearing spokespersons who tell us about the future, about possibilities, and all the good works that these behemoths are currently tackling in order to help get us there. Some of this is presented to the public like a gentle broad stroke, an easy pat down the back that reassures us about all the hard work that is currently being done in realms of positive green research breakthroughs and new developments. But these things are nothing more than a flimsy shroud despite any advancements being made. The fact is they ravage the planet in the real world of the here and now. Make no mistake, that’s what a propaganda network looks like and it’s very dangerous stuff. It’s also forced upon all of us despite any beliefs or personal opinions any of us have. We have to deal with it on ugly levels and then endure it somehow. I could talk at length about what entities like those really do, about their real impact on earth, sky, and water, and about what their real contribution is to society. How they change the landscape, how they transform government and distort foreign policy. I might be able to talk about them indefinitely, maybe make a career out of it provided I had enough personal energy. That would be almost too easy.

    But back to point, unfortunately those are Mega-Corporations that provide products (products that destroy). If someone feels the need to get critical when discussing the implications of size and power then those might be more appropriate places to start, not with an internet giant that concerns itself with how information is gathered, collated, and disseminated. If Google had some weird political platform that it hoisted like a black flag, then it would be time to get worried. So pushing the problem of size aside, right now the water is calm enough for me. And right now they offer free services that I value. I use their search engine frequently. I pull information from it, I apply it to what I’m doing, and occasionally I find new things that I can use and integrate into my site. Sure, I could have used another engine and perhaps retrieved similar looking results, but I didn’t. So on a personal level, and perhaps albeit myopic, Google deserves loads of credit. A positive write up is the only way I know how to repay them.

    Daniel A. Pino, author of the new book The Western Arc