I’m wondering why I care so much about Google.
And the truth is: I don’t.
At the root of it, I’m more concerned about 522 other things that I would never dare admit to myself, let alone write about in a public forum. However, Google is more than a larger-than-life metaphor for just about anything (except maybe for a llama who is obsessed with baby rattles that resemble Princess Di), it’s a study in how and why people take sides.
Let me (oh please) extrapolate.
Let’s go back to, say, four days ago.
Two Google stories broke nearly simultaneously.
1. Google resists US governmental requests (I use that term loosely) to disclose caches of search terms.
2. Google enters the Chinese marketplace, genuflecting awkwardly to governmental dictates for highly-censored search results.
Immediately, Google consumers split, in major part, into two distinct camps:
1. The Aidan Shaws
: Remember that Sex and the City
scene where Carrie stands at the bottom of Aidan’s stoop, blathering, begging, pleading for a second chance after cheating on him with Big? Erstwhile, Aidan stands there silent, memorizing treetops, wearing that amazing white-on-white embroidered thin white buttondown shirt… (sorry, sorry-- gratuitous detail), mulling? Carrie continues, and continues, and cont—until Aidan interrupts her with a sharply detached: “Carrie, you broke my heart
2. The Dow Quixotes
; This one’s easy. Just replace “windmills” with “stock value.”
Google became either a bloody red hypocrite with a Marlon Brando eyebrow furrow…
or an ever-sage Girl Scout swaddled in do-gooder badges and wielding carts of Do-Si-Does and puppies cured of leukemia.
I didn’t have a camp. And damn it—I felt left out.
Then this nice man named Tom Hazlett
from this little place called The Financial Times
invited me to make lanyards and toast marshmallows and hold my hand while I walk to the latrine.
His article, titled Google’s Beautiful China Paradox
, not only balances even arguments with thoughtful reactions, but he does so in a way that is extremely difficult to disagree with. He’s smuggled a crafty documentary on Google’s business media functionality within a one-page online article. Tom— if I had your number…oh. boy.
And I quote:Is this not the same Google that stands up for “freedom of the net”?
The criticism is proper and even productive – unlike a lot of other chatter. Companies ought to pay some price for selling out. But Google – as far as one can tell – has not sold cheaply. The Chinese government has the ability to do far worse than deal with Google; it could choose not to deal at all. And the terms of the agreement struck will push modern communications yet further in a basically authoritarian society. That triggers an underlying dynamic that ultimately, will undermine restrictions, allowing civil liberties – not Chinese government censors – to triumph.
Sounds utopic, right? Tommy ate his Froot Loops with a sprinkling of hyperchimeric flax seeds?
While I will contest that it’s very…ummm… nice… to think that Savior Communicado will rise up like the Michelan Man, unpoppable and heavier-than-he-looks, I’m heading over to Tom’s camp in this regard to say that not only is it nice
, but it’s also quite plausible.
Sure, Google was making a business decision
when they decided (months, years ago) to start recruiting a sales and development team in China. And, sure, very often, such decisions postpone
issues of ethics and cultural conscience (mindfully or not)… if only because their paths are shadowed by a swelling market cap. Even so, these issues can’t be postponed forever. And Google isn’t contesting that they were trying to.
Google has been very up-front in saying that this certainly wasn’t their ideal situation; regardless, they’d rather get their foot in the door, even if their toes are lodged under the crack at the bottom. For all of those media critics who continually use Googles’s motto of “Do No Evil” as part of a sneering pun (from the so-awkward-that-it-can't-possibly-be-funny Do No Evil Except If It Affects the Profit Margin
to the simple-yet-lame Do No Evil??
)... get over it for, like, a minute. I’m not saying that my mind doesn’t whisper “hypocrite” in a scary baritone whenever I pull up my gmail account and see that happy-serif, rainbow-colored Google logo, but I’m willing to wait it out for a reasonable period.
It's easier to kill the King if he's the one who ushers you in the front door.
Even easier if he gives you the key.
With new access to the second-largest (and exponentially-growing) pool of internet-users in the world, and allowance to tag a warning message to the bottom of any “limited” search page, indicating that “results have been removed because of censored content,” I’d say that Google ain’t in too bad’a place. They hold the match and the rotting frame of what the owners call a house.
We have every right to treat our Google stock like a fragile princess: feed it airy crumpets, dress it in peach silk, throw it dolla'dolla'bills, y'all.
We have every right to be pissed, throw ibooks (not mine, please), and wave our don’t-tread-on-me flags with vigor and vim.Just not yet.