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#23: Stop the world, I want to get off

Randall Stross's Planet Google reminds me a lot of an unfortunate encounter I had a long while ago with a distribution of Linux, prompted by my need to pull some files off a comp whose Windows installation had become corrupt. The Linux OS could rotate between four different desktops; boasted about forty titles in its Games folder; and even came with a tea timer installed (with separate settings for green, black, and fruit-flavored tea). There was no end to the impressive widgets on the program. What it could not do out of the box, however, was write files to a blank CD - you had to go to the command line and write a mini-program to access that function, and I never actually got it to work. Certain computer folks, I've noticed, are particularly blind when it comes to practicality - in their programming endeavors, they're so occupied with whether they could that they don't stop to think if they should.

Planet Google impresses in its chronicles of the neat-o inspirations and windfalls that made the company such a staggering success - such as how its search function started to take off just at the dot-com bust, enabling Google buy up server space at bargain-basement prices just when it needed it - but frankly, those details are blurred out by the author's jaw-dropping lack of perspective. He's still stuck in that late-'90's MICRO$OFT WINDOZE MIRITE mindset where MS is the undisputed kaiser of the computing world; Google, in his mind, is the plucky David out to knock this Goliath his mixed-metaphor throne, and anything they do in pursuit of this endeavor is not only justifiable but laudable. Admittedly, the privacy issues surrounding Google have become a lot more prominent in the four years since the book's publication, but even in 2008, Stross should be aware that it's Google, not Microsoft, that stands astride the future in possession of awesome worldwide corporate clout and a staggering amount of info about our personal lives, and that antics like disregarding copyright on every book in the Michigan State library and tracking the content of private e-mails to sell ads in its quest to "organize the world's information" are going to come across as more ominous than charming. But no: every time it dawns on Stross that Google's actions might be construed as malfeasance, he runs to the reader crying that see, see, Mom, what Microsoft's doing is so much worse!!! - even if it isn't nearly, and even if it in fact doesn't even relate to the issues at hand.

It's hard to understand how a New York Times reporter could be so easily distracted from the hard questions about the implications of Google's dominance. The book still performs an unsettling service, though, for its disturbing vision of the company's brave new world. Is that what Google wants for its planet - an army of adulant, unquestioning sycophants to put a bright face on its omnipotence and omnipresence? If so...well, see the post title.

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