An edited version of this interview originally aired on Spark (27/5/11). The full-length version is available through the Spark in the Summer podcast (21/8/11).
The search engine (and internet company) Google has become synonymous with the web since launching in 1996. Using the site is so popular that the term "google" has evolved into a colloquial verb, meaning "to search the web using Google." It is arguably the most powerful and most accurate search engine out there.
And Siva Vaidhyanathan thinks this is a problem. The professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia is also the author of The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry). In this book, Vaidhyanathan argues that the world has been too quick to embrace and praise Google, and instead, we need to approach the company, its services and the search results it offers more critically.
Vaidhyanathan is quick to point out that The Googlization of Everything is not about Google itself. Instead, it's "a book about us and how we use Google." The rise of Google has already been thoroughly documented in several books. "What I thought was missing from the story was an account of our own embrace of Google," he told Spark host Nora Young in a recent interview. "I was fascinated by the love that I saw expressed about this company, the deep admiration, the almost unquestioning trust in Google."
Google is very good at what is does, and that, Vaidhyanathan argues, is part of the problem. "Google is able to collect this data, statistically analyze and therefore predict what we might be interested in," he explained. "We miss out on depth and miss out on breadth...Google is narrowing our field of vision by serving us too conveniently."
What should Google users do? It's simple, according to Vaidhyanathan. Be aware of how Google works and how it tailors search results to users based on terms used, search history, geographical location -- and that its algorithm is becoming more complex and more personalized by the day. Google became powerful through its ability to sort and filter information. Users can reclaim that power by using information to become informed and savvy web surfers.
"Training ourselves with a sense of propriety and maturity," Vaidhyanathan said. "That's what I would love us to collectively know as we enter the second 15 years of the web."
The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry)
by Siva VaidhyanathanBuy this book at:
"In the beginning, the World Wide Web was exciting and open to the point of anarchy, a vast and intimidating repository of unindexed confusion. Into this creative chaos came Google with its dazzling mission -- "To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible" -- and its much-quoted motto, "Don't Be Evil." In this provocative book, Siva Vaidhyanathan examines the ways we have used and embraced Google -- and the growing resistance to its expansion across the globe. He exposes the dark side of our Google fantasies, raising red flags about issues of intellectual property and the much-touted Google Book Search. He assesses Google's global impact, particularly in China, and explains the insidious effect of Googlization on the way we think. Finally, Vaidhyanathan proposes the construction of an Internet ecosystem designed to benefit the whole world and keep one brilliant and powerful company from falling into the "evil" it pledged to avoid..."
Read more at University of California Press