This is my first blog post regarding a class that I am taking this semester at Claremont School of Theology. The class is called, Theology After Google. Our professor, Dr. Philip Clayton, has blogged about this class and the corresponding conference, to take place in sunny CA March 10 - 12, 2010. If you sign up to come, and I hope you do, do me a favor and mention my name--I'll get 'extra credit'!
What Should Google Do?
Our first assignment was to read and blog about a book, "What Would Google Do?" by Jeff Jarvis. I just finished the book, and it was very interesting. I learned a lot about Google and its many groundbreaking ways of doing business. I can see how many people in the business world and to some extent in the not for profit and even religious world could take many valuable lessons. I certainly have. With that being said, I am somewhat critical to the question itself, "What Would Google Do?" because it implies that Google has a normative status. The following comments are some theological criticisms of Google, that Mr. Jarvis brought to light in his book. [Readers note: page citations are for the Large Print edition of the book.]
Truly Geek, or Just Geek Chic?
Jarvis starts out praising geek-hood claiming that the future of the world will belong to geeks. He says that Mark Zuckerberg talks like a geek, and that everyone better get used to this (82 - 83). But in the closing remarks of the chapter dedicated to "New Ethics" it says of Google's "Don't be Evil... It is not a campaign pledge or a geeky Bible lesson about good and bad. It is a calculated business rule: When people can openly talk with, about, and around you, screwing them is no longer a valid business strategy." (180) In other words be like the super rich geeks, not the ones who geek out on what it means to be good in the world. The more subtle point is: appear to be good, but don't be all 'religious' about it. Excuse me, but is anyone else having a moment of cognitive dissonance? Isn't theology all about geeking out on what is good? What is ultimately and fundamentally good, not just "calculated business rules." When theology is informed by "Calculated business rules" the church is in for some sorry sorry times.
The Real Dream...or Nightmare? - Google Everywhere!
In the chapter called "Utilities" and subtitled: Google Power & Light, and GT&T the author explores what it would mean if Google were in charge of utilities and telecom. In it, the author recounts the exciting time in 2008 when Google battled out (against mainly Verizon) for control of newly expanded bandwidth. Google won, not by exacting ownership but forcing openness so that they could a piece of the market share. What the want is ubiquity. The greater the availability of the Internet is to people, the better profits Google can make. Why? Advertising, advertising, advertising.
Google allows so many free applications and advocates for accessibility because they are not evil, they are our friends, they want to help us, and also of course give us the chance to gander at a few of their "sponsored links" and advertisements. Have you ever noticed how when reading an email in gmail those sponsored links eerily match the content of your email? How closely is content read? Are you comfortable knowing that Google might be reading all of your emails to more closely match advertisers with your needs? It's all well and good until you are considered a threat and Google decides to hand over your secrets to the government like they did in India. (176-177 "Don't Be Evil" Section)
Keep the Masses Dissatisfied
The backbone of the Google economy is advertising plain and simple. And advertising works by according to Printers Ink, "Keep the masses dissatisfied with their mode of life, discontented with ugly things around them." (262) This is what drives our lovely capitalist economy over the cliff into over indulgence and greed.
1% a Tithe of a Tithe
Google gives 1% of its profits to itself for charitable work. Way to go Google. Just multiply that by 10 and try giving it to somebody besides yourself and you might get close to the Biblical...geeky mandate. But even so 1% is something. I'd like to challenge Google to give 1% of its net earnings to eradicate extreme poverty in the world. This is the goal of many people, such as One.org or Pete Singer's (not religious per se by the way) thelifeyoucansave.com. If we all gave 1% (to not ourselves) death by hunger and extreme poverty would cease. That's just one idea and a start to what What Google Should Do.
I hope you don't consider this to be hate for business or anything for profit. It is not. I concede that business has a vital role to the economy and people's well being. However, I maintain that Google is not normative, it is groundbreaking and worth learning from, but it should also be informed by religious values and theology.