Watch this, then come back for the rest. It’s work safe, that is no harsh language and such.
This scared the crap out of me (not literally, for future reference) for a moment. I haven’t liked where some things with Google have been going. I don’t mind relying on them for some email, searching around, and for analyzing visits to this blog. But the idea that they could be in a position to control all human knowledge is a bit scary. Think I’m over-reacting a bit? Read this, too, which is where I found the above movie.
Personally, I like that my data is on my computer at home. I don’t need to access it anywhere else and, if I do, I have plenty of removable media (CDs, DVDs, and USB drives) to move it around on. That isn’t even bothering to mention uploading files to this site to access elsewhere or sending them via email. I don’t
need want them indexed by anyone for content that will then be used for any reason in particular. In the darkest world according to Google I see segregation based not on skin color, but on buying habits and personal opinion scraped out of blogs and podcasts and it scares me. But I take hope in the fact that segregation was torn down, at least in name and more so in some places, and continues to be fought against where it exists. That’s a bit dramatic, but I think it gets my point across well.
That said, I don’t think there is anything to worry about. With the growth in people’s ability to access information can come information overload, which would make a computer system that uses everything about you to only show you information you want useful. But there’s an Achilles Heal there. Human beings need to learn and grow. I’ve learned more in the last two months by reading other people’s blogs than I have in the last two years. Will I use that information? Not necessarily, but my way of thinking has been expanded into different areas. I’d rather risk the overload to learn more than get content filtered only for my interests.
It’s like when I first took algebra. I failed it, or nearly so, in 8th grade. It just didn’t click. I was stuck in a world where mathematics was all numbers, no variables or equations. 2 + 2 = 4 and to hell with x. Something happened during my freshman year of high school, though, where my thinking suddenly changed and algebra clicked. While that helped me get a good grade in the class, the fact that my way of thinking had shifted was more important. That shift allowed me to explore the world in a new way. Once I learned that it wasn’t algebra but the method of thinking that was they key, even more doors opened for me. Not just in math (which I didn’t pursue anyway), but in music and computer programming and faith and friendship and introspection. Seeking out new ways to alter not what I thought about the world around me, but how I thought about allowed me to see a large number of possibilities. But in order to seek out those ways, I have to go beyond my basic interests into the interests of The Strangers around me. (Side note: this is why I think algebra is so important to learn for everyone. It’s not about when you’ll use it life, which you will, but what you’ll learn about learning itself.)
This is where the Google/Amazon/Web Marketing model starts to fail. If the content I find when I look for content in any medium at all is always geared to what I’m interested in, I’m less likely to ever encounter something that challenges, pushes, or otherwise helps me expand the way I think about things. I may find content that disagrees with my conclusions, but that merely creates an argument. They key to solving an argument does not exist in the argument, though. It exists in a third party that may not even seem to relate until after the fact. As an example, take sexual preference and the church. There is quite an argument there, but the key, I think, to that argument isn’t in whether certain behavior is a sin or not, but in Love itself. Only when all sides of the argument can see that can the argument turn to discussion and the ways of thinking be expanded into realms as of yet unexplored.
One last reason I’m not worried is inspired by Babylon 5. One theme through the show is that humans are special from the other races because they do something none of the others do: we form communities out of diversity. It’s what makes us dangerous and powerful. It’s also why a computer model trying to put us in a box based on our interests and past purchases will never completely work, though we will find it occasionally useful. Some people may accept the box they are given to live in without question. Most, I think, will rebel against that and break down the box in their quest to learn more about themselves and why they are here and what their purpose is.
UPDATE: To clarify, my problem is with the lack of permission involved. If I store my files on Google servers (or really anyone’s servers, Google is just a hotpoint for this right now), they can scan that content for information about me whether I like it or not. If I send them my files and okay that action, that’s alright. I’m asking for it and would then want the targeted content. If they use my files regardless of my wishes, that’s spam, at best, and the information they send me is merely an interruption of my time much like TV commercials, banner ads, and email spam are now. That’s probably as bad as it would get, too, though the sinister segregation idea is an easy idea to jump on.