Google Past and Future

Sivacracy‘s Siva Vaidhyanathan has a new server, a new domain, and a new virtual home at the Institute for the Future of the Book.  The IF:book announcement is worth noting:

Siva is one of just a handful of writers to have leveled a consistent and coherent critique of Google’s expansionist policies, arguing not from the usual kneejerk copyright conservatism that has dominated the debate but from a broader cultural and historical perspective: what does it mean for one company to control so much of the world’s knowledge?

What does it mean for Ben Vershbow at IF:book to write that “one company control[s] so much of the world’s knowledge?”  I mean that in cultural terms, not just in legal ones.  What does “control” mean in that sentence?  What does “knowledge” mean in that sentence?  Those are questions to savor.

Anxiety over monopolization of intellectual and cultural resources goes back at least to the original Library of Alexandria.  I re-watched the film version of Eco’s The Name of the Rose recently, which sets the same theme in a medieval monastery.  Twentieth-century villains aren’t fire, which destroyed the Library and the stacks of Eco’s monastery, but firms:  IBM (then came the personal computer), then Microsoft (then came the Internet), now Google.  And then came what?  One reason I have been less skeptical of Google than Siva (among others) is my confidence that Google — while hardly a savior, and deserving scrutiny — isn’t the end game. 

None of those observations or questions detracts from what the Institute and Siva are up to.  Congrats to all on the new arrangement.

2 thoughts on “Google Past and Future

  1. Thanks, Michael.

    I look forward to soliciting your feedback on my Google book.

    As far as what “control” means, that’s the big question. Foucault would answer it one way. Hayak another. I will probably end up in between them, as I do in all other matters.

    More soon!

    Siva

  2. I agree. It’s funny, when I first read Siva’s piece in the Chron of Higher Ed. on Google, I wrote an angry letter to the letter to refute it. Now I’m happy they didn’t publish it–the more I think about the monopolization potential here, the more I worry, and the more I think Siva’s take on the situation prophetic.

    I’d never think I’d agree with the WSJ editorial page, but the last paragraph of Holman Jenkins’ overheated column today struck a nerve:

    “[B]y relentlessly pitching broadband suppliers as an “enemy” industry ripe for regulation, Google hopes to forestall the day when Washington begins to examine Google’s own dominance in search and advertising. Here, we can hardly blame the company. Its ability to control which Web sites and Web businesses receive traffic makes it a far likelier candidate for “public utility” treatment than the diverse and growing array of players who make up the broadband world.”

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118472062291969753-search.html?KEYWORDS=sort of evil&COLLECTION=wsjie/6month

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