1.26.2006

And it's not just because I have mulligans on the brain...




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.

or

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.


4 Comments:

Blogger kate.d. said...

oh my god, i am such an ignoramus about this stuff. i think i understood about 34% of this post.

i have to go do some research. very preliminary research.

11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2 things. I just tried to read Tom's article. FT.com could not get me there. Server Load they say. I can only assume a cadre of fluffernutters asking for the same article all at once.

Being currently on the other side of the censors software (the UAE is not 100% western despite what the ads at the mall my tell you) I can come down into camp 'google will drive civil liberties forward' with this move in china. Seeing a page censored out from under me... knowing it is there and someone is preventing me from reading it... makes it the singularly most important thing I can imagine. Even if it is the most trivial website I can think of. To use myself as an ego-centric foil for humanity I can only think that the same will be true for the people of China: being slammed in the face with censored google searches will only spur them to struggle against that very censorship harder.

hetherjw

12:03 AM  
Blogger jayniek said...

2 things back at ya:

1. The Tom link should work now. It was being a little funky-cold-medina earlier this morning, but now it seems to be good to go.

2. Welcome to Camp Civil Liberties. We make gimp bracelets at noon.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous e said...

The fact that there is now language - a clear and indelible footprint - that states: material CENSORED - is at the very least a step in the right direction.

11:58 AM  

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