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The cult of Google

Is Google good for us?

The Guardian had a fantastic set of articles this weekend addressing the role of Google in the world. One particularly intriguing piece comes from Adam Curtis, a documentary director, who notes:

Google is a paradox. It gives us the feeling we are wild and free individuals, powerfully reinforcing an idea of us as heroic figures in the consumer age. Yet at the same time it is powerfully proving the opposite - that we are completely predictable. Out of that is going to come some very interesting political ideas of how to organise society and also new artistic ideas.

I think we're going to see Google given a run for its money, with more and better ways of filtering information to consumers and businesses. Each of these, however, will take us one step closer to becoming assimilated into a Borg-like information-dense existence, one largely devoid of privacy and meaningful, individual choices.

Author Andrew Keen suggests:

[Google has] amassed more information about people in 10 years than all the governments of the world put together. They make the Stasi and the KGB look like the innocent old granny next door. This is of immense significance. If someone evil took them over, they could easily become Big Brother.

It's not just Google. Google is powerful because it has become so good at helping people find the proverbial needle in a massive haystack of information, but arguably we are always one click away from an alternative. The problem, however, is that all of the alternatives play by roughly the same rules, and are building closed platforms that let us use, but not control, our applications or data.

Vint Cerf, a vice president at Google and co-creator of the Internet, has a rosy outlook on the web, suggesting that "it has the potential to change unexpected parts of our lives." I agree. I'm just not yet certain that I want it to change so much of my life, at least not on my terms.