Those who know me well often joke that Iâ€™d make a good spokesperson for a Google ad. I canâ€™t help it if Google has changed my life (and Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™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 couldnâ€™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 Vaidhyanathanâ€™s recent book deal with the University of California Press.
Per Publisherâ€™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 â€œThe Googlization of Everythingâ€ that he gave last week at Penn State, Vaidhyanathan used the example of a google search result of the word â€œSivaâ€ (the #1 result is the Smashing Pumpkins 1991 music video for â€œSiva,â€ not the Hindu god of the same name) to raise the question of just how universal Google actually is.
From an article in Penn Stateâ€™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.” â€¦
[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 â€œShivaâ€ (the more common spelling for the Hindu god of destruction), then his website. Hmmmâ€¦.]
From the same article:
“Google actually has a pretty profound and perhaps disturbing role in what we consider to be valuable, true and important â€¦ “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 Googleâ€™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.â€ 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 Googleâ€™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?