Dystopias after Google

On: October 20, 2007
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About Michael Stevenson
I am a lecturer and PhD candidate in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I've been a contributor to Masters of Media since 2006, though I now only post occasionally. A short list of papers and projects can be found here

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Here at MofM we’ve done our share of Google criticism, but I think The Last Psychatrist has one up on us. What Hath Google Wrought is a giant-sized portion of skepticism about the ‘accidental monopoly’, which focuses not just on current problems of data retention but some of the long term (cultural) consequences as well. I’ve posted a few choice quotes below.

First, here’s what is meant by ‘accidental monopoly’:

Consider email: you can choose to use Yahoo! Mail and not GMail because you are worried that Google keeps all Gmails. Fine; but if you email to someone with GMail, Google stores a copy and knows what you wrote, but now also knows your IP and email address; consequently, it knows other sites you’ve visited. Etc.

The data retention issue seems manageable with promises like “Don’t be Evil”, but eventually there will be the problem of liquidation.

Everyone worries about Google’s growth, but who is worrying about its demise? Google has so much data that it actually takes up real estate all over the world. Let’s say Google goes out of business. Who gets all those servers? All that data? Who gets a copy of the world, on the cheap? Whoever it is doesn’t have to give us satellite photos anymore. What can you do with satellite photos that no one else has? Who gets to decide how to control all that data?

My favorite bit, however, is on what else to expect from the narcissistic culture that surrounds, supports and benefits from Google. For instance on parenting:

The focus is on who is monitoring our children. What are they up to?

Well, think about this: your kids are investigating you.

Remember that time when your mom was 19 and she was in that wet t-shirt contest? No? Well, your kids will get to remember yours in AVI format. Oh, and that DUI conviction? Remember that vapid comment you posted on the Daily Kos? (Hint: ten years from now a high school freshman will cringe at its inanity.) And, lo, the IP address search. How did your IP end up on pornotron.org? (Yes, the non-profit.)

Did you realize that your future daughter in law will be checking you out? “Billy, did you know eight years ago your Dad…?” This didn’t occur to you? Then I guess it didn’t occur to you that your son’s reply will be, “Sigh. Yeah. I knew.”

Obviously, the problem with dystopias (and their opposites) is that they’re reductive. But when written well, like good science fiction, they’re an index of possibility at any given moment. And if our current moment is defined by its Cartographic Fever, then the dedication to mapping the future seems as useful (and as inevitable) as anything else.

2 Responses to “Dystopias after Google”
  • October 22, 2007 at 8:47 am

    Interesting thought what would happen if Google would go bankrupt.
    I guess I don’t want to know what scary things they will be able to do when they are trying to safe themselves from demise!

  • October 22, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    I think this is a “general” problem we are dealing with. We rely so much on APIs nowadays but every company could potentially go offline without notice. Of course all their disclaimers make sure that they are not responsible for data loss but I would feel rather lost if Flickr suddenly “lost” my pictures.

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