Cyberspace has everted.
September 1, 2010 6:20 AM   Subscribe

Google's Earth by William Gibson.
posted by xowie (92 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
"imminently reliable"?

I don't care if that was Gibson's mistake. It's still a sad sign of the Times that they let it through.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:39 AM on September 1, 2010


In Google, we are at once the surveilled and the individual retinal cells of the surveillant, however many millions of us, constantly if unconsciously participatory.

I think this is Gibson's main, or at least most interesting, point.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:40 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed this, particularly Gibson's numerous metaphors and descriptions of Google. For the tldr crowd, Gibson says Google is:
  • a distributed entity, a two-way membrane (as opposed to a discrete artificial intelligence like HAL 9000), making everything in the world accessible to everyone, and everyone accessible to the world
  • a game-changing tool ("on the order of the equally handy flint hand ax")
  • a very large and powerful corporation, like nothing we've seen before
  • a sort of coral reef of human minds and their products
  • a central and evolving structural unit not only of the architecture of cyberspace, but of the world
  • an organ of global human perception / a single multiplex eye for the entire human species
  • a post-geographical, post-national super-state
posted by oulipian at 6:55 AM on September 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Is anyone else as tired of Gibson as I am? He had a pretty decent short novel a couple of decades ago (that doesn't hold up well to being read today), but what has he said or written since that was worthwhile? This article for me was just a confused mess and didn't tell me anything original. I did notice that he has a new book coming out, so I guess he's just getting his name out there again to raise awareness.
posted by conifer at 7:03 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Eric Schmidt, I don't want Google to answer questions or tell me what to do, I want it to give me what I'm fucking searching for and stop giving me links to pages I can't even access. It oughta give you free results by default and "Search paywalled crap" should be a checkbox under Advanced Search.
posted by XMLicious at 7:05 AM on September 1, 2010 [10 favorites]


Google is more like smallpox than the flint hand ax.
posted by swift at 7:05 AM on September 1, 2010


Thanks for the find, xowie. Excellent! Gibson's still got it. So nice to read such a current editorial by him.
posted by rmmcclay at 7:05 AM on September 1, 2010


I think he's confused Google with the Internet.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:07 AM on September 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


It definitely is something to think about. Google has my e-mail, contacts, searches, my blogger blog, and my RSS feed as I like to use google reader. Since Amazon goes to my gmail, they also know what books, cd's and dvd's I purchase. If I was on a terror watch list, the government could analyze near the entirety of my online behavior if they had access to google's data.

About the only thing not in google's data base is what I post on metafilter and a couple other group weblogs. Thank the Big Model Railroader in the Sky I ain't a Muslim or an anarchist or a dope smoker. One of the guys on the Hacker News discussion of Gibson's article made the observation that this represents a force for closeting the outliers. A Ted Kaszcinski sociology observation as I read it.
posted by bukvich at 7:08 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


if you're tired of Gibson, you're tired of whatever it is that we call life right now.

i wish i could hand all my decisions over to my favorite novelist instead of a huge web entity but maybe google will give me that option eventually.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:08 AM on September 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Gibson is very active and engaging twitter user, for those who care.
posted by timshel at 7:09 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


i'd ask him where i could get all the clothes from Pattern Recognition but I guess that would be largely missing the point.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:14 AM on September 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Man, wait till he finds Bing
posted by the noob at 7:20 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sniping at Gibson is unworthy. Whatever your opinion of his prose, or how well his genre-defining Neuromancer holds to re-reading today, the guy still has a remarkably fresh perspective and understanding of basic civilization aspects which we usually just take for granted.
posted by ivancho at 7:24 AM on September 1, 2010 [11 favorites]


I hope I have a place in Google's Plans for us.
posted by The Whelk at 7:32 AM on September 1, 2010


Potomac Avenue: The Cayce Look is actually something you see a lot in high-end fashion circles. Completely bar and simple clothing made excruciatingly well - full of the kind of details fashion nerds will notice and go unnoticed by people at large, so you're only broadcasting your amazing taste to people already in the know. Inconspicuous Consumption.
posted by The Whelk at 7:35 AM on September 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


bare*
posted by The Whelk at 7:35 AM on September 1, 2010


a post-geographical, post-national super-state


i think this was always the worst idea in the "cyberpunk' universe: the idea that large powerful corporations can exist outside of large powerful governments. the relationship between google and china illustrates this.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:38 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is anyone else as tired of Gibson as I am? He had a pretty decent short novel a couple of decades ago (that doesn't hold up well to being read today), but what has he said or written since that was worthwhile? This article for me was just a confused mess and didn't tell me anything original. I did notice that he has a new book coming out, so I guess he's just getting his name out there again to raise awareness.
The way this parses for me is that you are admitting to being unaware of anything he's done since presumably Neuromancer, yet you feel qualified to dismiss the body of work he's produced since?

Read "Spook Country" and "Pattern Recognition" then when you pontificate it won't be out of ignorance. You can have an actual informed opinion.

Also, anyone that thinks "Neuromancer" doesn't stand up lacks a historical perspective. I'm not calling him an Orwell by any means, but saying "Neuromancer" is no longer relevant is like saying "1984" is outdated.

I'm not a Gibson fanboy by any means, but I do think if you're going to criticize the man or his works you should have a minimal understanding of the topic.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:39 AM on September 1, 2010 [21 favorites]


Is anyone else as tired of Gibson as I am? He had a pretty decent short novel a couple of decades ago (that doesn't hold up well to being read today), but what has he said or written since that was worthwhile?

I'm plenty tired of his books, which have gone down in quality and aren't aging well. But this piece struck me as well-written and interesting. There are big question marks in how we are living our internet-enabled lives, including the boundaries between for-profit providers and personal privacy. It's not so much that Gibson has the answers as that he seems to be pointing here at the right sorts of questions to be asking ourselves.
posted by Forktine at 7:39 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I didn't read Neuromancer until (somehwat) recently (like 4 or 5 years ago) and I totally disagree that it doesn't hold up. Maybe I haven't read enough other cyberpunk novels or maybe I've read too many, but I think it's great, and if you can make yourself remember what wasn't there before it, it's pretty amazing.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:40 AM on September 1, 2010


Neuromancer holds to re-reading today

For what it's worth, Gibson is more than happy to acknowledge/talk about the ways in which Neuromancer hasn't held up. He seems not 100% comfortable with his reputation as a keen prognosticator (and I don't blame him). His usual example of why he's not a great one is that there are absolutely no cell phones or anything like them in Neuromancer.

I can only vaguely imagine what it was like reading it when it was new. Pattern Recognition was the first one I got to read when it was "fresh," and part of the reason it's ended up becoming my favorite (though certainly Neuromancer is by far the more "important" one) is that not only is it one of his better stories, it was the first one that described a world I recognized as my own. Not only the stuff about how we have started kind of strip mining cultural niches before they get weird/interesting enough to really be a big beadl, but also it's just about the only book I've ever read to nail what it's like to know people more as words on a screen than as flesh and blood people. I don't think it was anywhere near the jolt of reading Neuromancer when it was fresh (or some of the early short stories), but that level of identification is definitely a big part of my affection for that one.

(Spook Country is good, but not as big a shock for me, except in as much as I didn't think Gibson could write something so lightly/wryly comedic.)

Looking forward to the new book, of course. His recent volubility on twitter and his blog is making it very hard to think of good questions for when he comes through Chicago in a few weeks.
posted by sparkletone at 7:52 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not so much that Gibson has the answers as that he seems to be pointing here at the right sorts of questions to be asking ourselves.

While we might disagree as to the relative worth of his books (the latter two sprawl books aren't very good, but he got better again over time, IMO) ... I could not agree with this sentence more.
posted by sparkletone at 7:54 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Best thing I've read in the Times in months. Thanks for posting. And for anyone who wondered what he's talking about regarding proxy cascades, have a look at Tor.
posted by jardinier at 7:57 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


His metioning the Panopticon is a blatant theft from Shoshannah Zuboff, who did it a lot better in The Age of the Smart Machine. William Gibson is a bum when you compare him to John Brunner and RAH. God, you are all so gullible.
posted by nj_subgenius at 8:02 AM on September 1, 2010


Back when Gibson's first novels were coming out, the general public didn't pay much attention to computers and certainly not to networks. I was a CS major in college when Neuromancer came out and while I had my head in computers, not to many of my friends did and many of them thought that I was pretty odd to want to have anything to do with them. I was literally the only one of my college friends to own a computer of my own.

The fact that computing and networking were so central to the lives of the people in Gibson's early novels was really eye opening to me at the time and inspiring as hell. I assume that it inspired a lot of Google's engineers too.
posted by octothorpe at 8:04 AM on September 1, 2010


About the only thing not in google's data base is what I post on metafilter and a couple other group weblogs.

I have some bad news.

On the topic: It's interesting to me that there is such alarm about Google. None of my mail or documents pass through Google, unless I'm e-mailing someone who does use Google. It's not hard to find service providers for any IT needs that aren't also advertising companies.

It's an interesting perspective that such a surveillance state future could be the result of genuine consumer choice.
posted by odinsdream at 8:06 AM on September 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


True fact: His books have by and large aged better than this interview thingy which, um. It's been a while since I've seen something so painfully early 90s. The interview bits with Gibson himself aren't bad, but the interstitial/context bits... Wow. Wow.
posted by sparkletone at 8:07 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think this is Gibson's main, or at least most interesting, point.

Nah, this is (for me anyway):

We never imagined that artificial intelligence would be like this.

It reminds me of what I love most about the future, which is we never really see it coming. Collectively, that is. There's always the odd genius, of course, more or less accurately pointing the way, but they seldom (never?) achieve the kind of popularity of say, whoever the artist is that first drew a sketch of a flying car, a suburban bungalow floating in space, people commuting via jetpack.

So yeah, I love that artificial intelligence is real and functional and increasingly ubiquitous, and GROWING, and we're all intrinsically part of it, everyone who's ever googled anything. Ever. And yet, we're only now starting realize it.

[slight SPOILER action ahead]

As for Spook Country and Pattern Recognition, I read them both last year. Liked them, didn't LOVE them. On reflection, what strikes me about both is the almost complete lack of sex and violence (action in general). Lots of tension and potential threat but, in the end, the author is managing to tell his stories without resorting to anything gratuitous, which strikes me as pretty darned mature.

I recommend them both as compelling, more or less engrossing reads that will not leave you feeling DUMBER for having invested the effort.
posted by philip-random at 8:08 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


"His metioning the Panopticon is a blatant theft from Shoshannah Zuboff, who did it a lot better in The Age of the Smart Machine. William Gibson is a bum when you compare him to John Brunner and RAH. God, you are all so gullible."

Okey-doke.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 8:12 AM on September 1, 2010


I think he's confused Google with the Internet.
CheeseDigestsAll, if that's so, then he is in good company with about 85% of web surfers & email pecker-outers.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:13 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


<spoilers> Believe it or not, Gibson takes the whole fashion thing further in the new book-- the core of the plot in about couture.
posted by gwint at 8:17 AM on September 1, 2010


philip-random: I don't disagree, I think the 'this' in your quote could refer to the line I commented on.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:18 AM on September 1, 2010


Blah blah posthuman futurism blah blah cyberspace singularity blah blah cribbing others' metaphors blah blah no idea what I'm talking about. </gibson>
posted by clarknova at 8:23 AM on September 1, 2010


Google... a game-changing tool on the order of the equally handy flint hand ax

Well having used both for the task, I can say that it is unambiguously easier to kill a snake with the ax. You wouldn't believe how long it takes to google an animal to death.

Finding information, on the other hand, is actually remarkably easy with both.
posted by quin at 8:32 AM on September 1, 2010 [13 favorites]


Google is almost none of the things he describes it to be. It may be, one day. Or something else may be. But right now, Google is a frustrating search engine that gives many more false positives than I care for, is not as intuitive as I need it to be, but it's still the best we've got.
When we have something like a cross between Google and what Wolfram Alpha promises to be, then William Gibson should write this article about it.
posted by rocket88 at 8:32 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Joking aside, I always like Gibson's take on things. Even when I flatly disagree with him, I have to acknowledge his ability to phrase something in a way that makes it a resonant argument.
posted by quin at 8:34 AM on September 1, 2010


It oughta give you free results by default and "Search paywalled crap" should be a checkbox under Advanced Search.

GooglePlus will soon be available to you through an exclusive partnership with Verizon, at only a small surcharge.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:37 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've read all of Gibson's stuff as he is seen as an important writer, whatever that means. I just find it to be far less informed than the writings of Stephenson or Brin or Vinge. I find the level of knee-jerk "it's from Gibson so it must be good/prescient" to be astounding. His stuff can be fun, but for me it doesn't much exceed the level of pulp.
Now watch the vitriol roll in that someone would dare to cast aspersions on the prophet that is Gibson.
posted by conifer at 8:38 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


email pecker-outers.

I would just like to highlight this phrase.

(While I try to think of a sufficiently funny Craigslist joke.)
posted by sparkletone at 8:39 AM on September 1, 2010


It's a beautiful bit of flowery prose, but I can't help but thinking he's giving Google too much mystique. End of the day, it's just not that obscure. The core product is a search engine. It has a bunch of text from the web in indices, it has some information retrieval algorithms that have been tuned over the years, and it has some glue code to allow that database to be striped over thousands of machines and efficiently searched. It's a very good piece of technology, and quite complex, but it's not a genie.
posted by Nelson at 8:47 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now watch the vitriol roll in that someone would dare to cast aspersions on the prophet that is Gibson.

There is pretty much 0 reason to be this defensive, but to your main point, and I say this as a fan of all 4 authors mentioned in your post (and as someone who is madly in love with the Baroque books, even the first one): It is difficult to seem more informed than Neal Stephenson because he goes so very far out of his way to make you as informed as he is.
posted by sparkletone at 8:53 AM on September 1, 2010


GOOGLE IS MADE OF PEOPLE

IT'S PEEEOPLEEEEEEE!!!!
posted by ErikaB at 8:55 AM on September 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's a very good piece of technology, and quite complex, but it's not a genie.

but it has ambitions of being one and, I suspect Gibson would argue that it's fast gathering all the requisite tools and "wisdom" to become one.

End of the day, it's just not that obscure. The core product is a search engine. It has a bunch of text from the web in indices, it has some information retrieval algorithms that have been tuned over the years, and it has some glue code to allow that database to be striped over thousands of machines and efficiently searched.

This speaks to the ole "sufficiently-advanced-technology-being-indistinguishable-from-magic" saw. That is, for you, someone who's aware of what's going on behind the curtain, it's no more and no less than what it is. A technology. But consider it from the viewpoint of 99.9 percent of humanity (particularly anyone under the age of say, 15, and over the age of 50) and the darned thing takes on a presence, a utility, an intelligence that makes it seem uniquely alive.

And what is life anyway?
posted by philip-random at 8:57 AM on September 1, 2010


GOOGLE IS MADE OF PEOPLE

IT'S PEEEOPLEEEEEEE!!!!


I thought that was Redbull.
posted by philip-random at 8:58 AM on September 1, 2010


I haven't read Neuromancer in ages. But I have a copy of the Burning Chrome collection which I reread every couple years and it seems to me it's held up fine. (Well, except the title.)
posted by enn at 8:58 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think he's confused Google with the Internet.

I mean really. Sure, Google is big, but hell, so is Facebook now.

Google is not much different than any other Web site/network out there.

I'm with conifer, perhaps more respectfully. ;) Doesn't seem to be much new here. I'll re-read...

... yep. It seems like you could delete the Schmidt references, change "Google" to "Facebook" and it reads about the same.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:09 AM on September 1, 2010


(Since this is now a Gibson thread rather than a Google thread) Gibson's not universally beloved by geeks: he gets the tech wrong, sometimes, and he doesn't get as granular about the tech as others do, because it's not what interests him. His books are about all the things around the tech, and he never really gets into details about how it affects governments and business and societies on a larger scale. His writing is literary and sometimes verges on opaque, and it can be hard to get into what the hell he's talking about, looking into his alien worlds through peepholes that only make visible his obsessions: media, fashion, travel, pop culture, extreme wealth and extreme poverty.

Also, as philip-random points out, no flashy pyrotechnics (although his physical environments are some of the most memorable characters in ANY book I've read.) As a teenager, I was a lot more impressed by writers like Stephenson.

And yet he's got a wisdom that a lot of other writers lack, maybe because he doesn't get caught up in the details except as decoration or symbol. I once introduced an old friend to a new friend group in another country, and he chatted with everyone over the course of a party and later told me his impressions, which were TOTALLY right, and he'd arrived at them in hours where it took me months. Gibson has that gift of skimming truth off the periphery - he's not always right, but in my opinion, worth listening to.
posted by jetsetlag at 9:10 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Google is not ours. Which feels confusing, because we are its unpaid content-providers, in one way or another. We generate product for Google, our every search a minuscule contribution.

Only if I'm providing unpaid content to the people who print the phone book by having a phone.

This is a pretty simple non-monetary transaction: I give Google something (my eyeballs, information on what people search), they give me something back (the results of my search). We can argue about whether the costs outweigh the benefits, but there are clear and certain benefits.

Put another way: When I hit "Post comment", I'm giving the product of my time and though process (however minuscule) to Metafilter Inc., which will make money from adviews whenever someone finds my comment on a search engine. In exchange, I get something back (the ability to participate in a fairly elite community with a clear set of guidelines, etc.) No money changes hands, and the benefit outweighs the cost for both of us (otherwise we wouldn't do it), but there's still voluntary trade going on.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:15 AM on September 1, 2010


I dunno if it's fair to call MeFi a "fairly elite community" when you can get in for the price of a Big Mac.
posted by joedan at 9:22 AM on September 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


As with Facebook, I suspect that we're a product to Google, not a consumer.
They sell access to us to advertisers.

This is why I'm uncomfortable with the idea that consumer power can be wielded to fix many things. It's really not a very strong place to make a stand from. I'm much more of an anarcho-syndicalist at heart, and I'd rather we grab them by the means of production and twist until we get their attention.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:23 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's a nicely written editorial, but it doesn't address the most important change that Google (and search engines in general) are bringing to our lives: they streamline our ability to learn.

Fifteen years ago, if you had a difficult question on an obscure topic you had to put some thought into how that information could be obtained. You could ask an expert, or look through a library or take a class, but before doing any of that you had to come up with a quick strategy to determine how to access those resources, and how to recognize the answer you're looking for if it came up in a different phrasing or form. Learning was an active process, even when all you wanted to learn was trivia.

Today you type the most relevant keywords on Google and press Return. Information just comes to us now, almost effortlessly, in a way that it never did before. Living in that kind of information rich environment where Google does all the hard learning work for us is going to change people in ways we probably can't even imagine yet.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:25 AM on September 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


Interesting enough - but there's certainly nothing NEW in what Gibson's saying, nor in how he's choosing to say it. Then again, to the average New York Times-reading email-pecker-outer, perhaps that IS news...? Worth the read, though, thanks for posting.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 9:26 AM on September 1, 2010


On a totally unrelated note, author/literary discussions on MeFi have a really interesting dynamic in the way they deal with authority and "quality." Those issues seem to really cloud debates about what they're actually SAYING. I don't really care about Gibson as a person, and I take his writing on a case by case basis. This article for example, is interesting speculation, which is valuable, but by its very nature difficult to ground in science and objectivity.

I feel like I'm introducing an essay, so I'll stop there.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:28 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


This speaks to the ole "sufficiently-advanced-technology-being-indistinguishable-from-magic" saw.

Yeah. But I'd much rather people just learn how Google's technology works than decide to worship it like some cargo cult.
posted by Nelson at 9:30 AM on September 1, 2010


For "cargo cult" to be applicable you'd have to design a web page that looks exactly like Google, but doesn't have the algorithms and other guts behind it. (I bet there are plenty of other search engines that do this. heh.)

Or say... build it on an etch-a-sketch or something.


You'd just be worshiping it like any other ol' magic oracle.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:32 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


As with Facebook, I suspect that we're a product to Google, not a consumer.

Metafilter too. As I write this, I'm providing unpaid content for Metafilter Networks, Inc. I'm not really a consumer of Metafilter since after my initial $5, I don't pay for anything here. I'm logged in and I don't get any ads. But what I and the other members write here is the content of Metafilter that Matt and company make their living off of.
posted by octothorpe at 9:33 AM on September 1, 2010


Is anyone else as tired of Gibson as I am?

I think his recent novels, while obviously having departed quite a bit from the hype-able cyber-punk whiz-bang of those career-making early books, are at least as good as thoughtful examinations of contemporary culture trends and much better (in the literary sense of plot and character and whatnot) as novels.
posted by aught at 9:36 AM on September 1, 2010


Gibson might be a bit hyperbolic and poetic but you guys who are unimpressed with Google or think that what they do is simple are underestimating them, I think. Google is taking the mass statistical analysis approaches that pushed forward fields like quality control in engineering and expanded many areas of science and medicine during the twentieth century and they're applying those to human online behavior on a staggering scale.

They don't just know what everyone types in searches for; through Google Analytics and Google Ads on half the sites on the Internet they're able to see just about everything everyone does on the web down to the clicks and how long you spend looking at particular pages. They probably even have some idea of where people look when a page comes up and how their eyes move based upon averages of where people click, for big sites. That's the kind of information you're giving them, l33tpolicywonk; your data alone is like a single neutrino passing through a Čerenkov detector, nothing to go on, but everyone's data in aggregate is probably allowing them to discover things that no one has ever known before.
posted by XMLicious at 9:38 AM on September 1, 2010 [9 favorites]


I enjoy William Gibson's work. I also enjoyed this article.
posted by slogger at 9:41 AM on September 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Google is not much different than any other Web site/network out there.

Google is more than a search engine. It's an email platform with perhaps thousands of documents that you and your friends have created. It's an address book, able to link you to people around you. It's a mapping system, aware of where you travel. It's an instant messaging system, able to index great volumes of conversational text. It's a phone network and it's a cell phone operating system. It's a voice recognition system that knows how you speak.

The sum of the information that Google gathers makes it much more than a traditional search engine. The former is enhanced by an enormous number of individual actions outside of the interaction with the search itself.

And so, unlike traditional search engines, but very much like AIs, Google's search engine learns by observing the actions of people. They have instrumented large parts of the decision making process of hundreds of millions of people, and their engine learns from this data.

Is Google just another search engine? From an engineer's view, yes. From an information retrieval view, it has an unprecedented breadth or depth with regards to its access to human behavior. Only Facebook has a similar scope of data, and my intuition is that Facebook's personal data is less useful for search - for predicting what you want in response to an expression of interest - than Google's.

disclaimer: I do this stuff for a living.
posted by zippy at 9:42 AM on September 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


joedan : I dunno if it's fair to call MeFi a "fairly elite community" when you can get in for the price of a Big Mac.

True, But when you consider the number of man-hours spent in the industry of crafting carefully worded comments to other members on the site, in an effort to maintain a productive conversation, you begin to understand that the minimal cost is far outweighed by the value of the effort put in.

Or shorter, it costs $5 to get in, it costs a lot more in terms of time and effort to stay as a contributing member.
posted by quin at 9:42 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's a nicely written editorial, but it doesn't address the most important change that Google (and search engines in general) are bringing to our lives: they streamline our ability to learn.

I want to read Kevin Street's article. I remember long arguments with friends or family about whether it was this actor or that actor or this book or that book ... those conversations are GONE now. That's just one tiny example of an immense societal shift.

The privacy/personal implications of the WebNet and the motivations of the corporations profiting off of it are somewhat interesting, but nowhere near as interesting to as the massive changes to the education and evolution of our species (and other species of life and the rest of our natural world) that all these interconnected technologies are going to bring.

Online learning will do for society what the tractor did for food
posted by mrgrimm at 9:44 AM on September 1, 2010


I remember long arguments with friends or family about whether it was this actor or that actor or this book or that book ... those conversations are GONE now.

I still have those conversations but they're more likely to end in "DO YOU SEE? DO YOU SEE? YOU WERE SO WRONG! HOW DOES IT FEEL, HUH? TO BE THAT WRONG?"

Whether it's me or the other person saying that.
posted by XMLicious at 10:06 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I sense that those who downplay Google's power see it as a mature technology: "Oh, it's like a librarian. Also, it handles my email, and does some other stuff too."

But all of these seemingly trivial functions are building blocks.

Google is only starting to integrate all of its data flows, and what it can do with them. In a way, the first page of Google for a given search term-- which seems so influential (because it is a media channel devoted to exactly what you are looking for, right now)-- will seem of relatively minor importance compared to all of G's warehoused and aggregated info.

For those who decry media consolidation and the kind of info-bubble offered by Fox News, think of a future in which all of the information you believe you are finding for yourself is actually tailored fairly exactly to what is known about what you already like and already believe... in which the newspaper becomes but a mirror.

Google is in its infancy-- and I suspect that if you don't find its power awesome and chilling now, in ten years or so, that will change.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:13 AM on September 1, 2010 [9 favorites]


If we're lucky it's not just Google in its infancy; it's a bunch of startups, and Microsoft, and libraries, and research labs, and... And they will continue to develop what Google has done and make it smarter, faster, more capable. Because that future is going to be awesome. Every discussion on MeFi about Google has all sorts of hand-wringing about "omg it's Skynet!" But that's kind of lazy thinking. Google and its brethren aren't just a cabinet of wonderful things. They're a nearly infinite cabinet of wonderful things you can easily find.
posted by Nelson at 10:42 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


"DO YOU SEE? DO YOU SEE? YOU WERE SO WRONG! HOW DOES IT FEEL, HUH? TO BE THAT WRONG?"

Heh. True. One major benefit is that that guy, you know the guy who goes, "Are you sure it was Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter? I'm almost positive it was Tom Berenger," that guy isn't so annoying anymore.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:44 AM on September 1, 2010


sense that those who downplay Google's power see it as a mature technology: "Oh, it's like a librarian. Also, it handles my email, and does some other stuff too."

But Google doesn't handle my email.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:46 AM on September 1, 2010


Gibson is not the first person to say this, but he is one of the first with mainstream credibility to articulate this without sounding wonkish. What he is doing in this piece is explaining how Google works, which is a lot different than what products they offer to users.

People seem to think that Google's business is built around its products (Search, Mail, Documents, etc). Nothing could be further from the truth. Those"products" are the tools they use to gather information; that is their business-- INFORMATION. You and I are not their customers, we are their users. Their customers are/will be governments, businesses, etc that want to know how to keep their citizens in line, their customers happy & active in their purchasing, what have you. All those Google things we use in our personal lives are the equivalent of the feed that a farmer gives his livestock.

This is why Gibson matters. He is able to articulate what the possible consequences of living in an information economy/culture are and will be in a way that is easily grasped without dumbing it down.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:51 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


About the only thing not in google's data base is what I post on metafilter and a couple other group weblogs. Thank the Big Model Railroader in the Sky I ain't a Muslim or an anarchist or a dope smoker.

Do you think Google is mining their databases for those people? You're more paranoid than I am. Nobody cares if you smoke weed. I mean, you might still get in trouble if a cop sees you, but nobody gets in trouble for talking about smoking pot anymore. Plus, millions of people smoke.

And over 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. That's a lot of data. Are they all suspicious? To Google?
posted by krinklyfig at 11:01 AM on September 1, 2010


As of today, various combinations of searches with my name against Google return only nine URLs which are about me. None of these point to pages where I said, "Yeah, I want my name on that." People have a tendency to volunteer information about others and disseminate it without a thought, which perhaps is related to their unfortunate tendency to try to similarly point cameras at others, without asking, and upload the resulting images.

I keep pruning this number down via various means and it more or less works. I should be down to six or fewer in a few more months. My eventual goal is zero. The work will be ongoing as people simply chuck more information into the hopper. To my way of thinking, the largest work to be done in privacy is not passing laws restricting corporations so much as educating people as to consequences and perhaps engineering a new etiquette for these matters, just as cell phone manners have (albeit slowly) developed.
posted by adipocere at 11:02 AM on September 1, 2010


"I remember long arguments with friends or family about whether it was this actor or that actor or this book or that book ... those conversations are GONE now."

and good riddance. I had one particularly hard drinking "friend" who seems to have been destroyed by Google. The guy was so wrong, so convinced otherwise, so often ... and then this simple all purpose, easily accessed fact-checker pops up and all he can do now when he drinks, is drink.
posted by philip-random at 11:02 AM on September 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Note the fine Michael Kupperman illustration for this article. Damn, that man can draw!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 11:23 AM on September 1, 2010


I remember long arguments with friends or family about whether it was this actor or that actor or this book or that book ... those conversations are GONE now.

Yeah, I miss that. Back when I was younger, I was pretty well-read, and was excellent at remembering weird little pieces of information. I used to act as a sort of proto-Google among my high-school friends: "Hey Greg, when did Christopher Marlowe die?" "In April of 1594." Bam, just like that. Knowledge!

Astute Googlers will here note that Marlowe actually died in May of 1593; my ability to provide answers never forced me to give true answers, after all. I rather miss the casual lying I used to be able to do on a day-to-day basis.

Anyway, I guess this is just to say that while we can debate quite a bit about Google's stance to not be Evil, it's certainly proven itself less evil than I was in this particular respect. So.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:28 AM on September 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Bam, just like that. Knowledge!

I can still do this, but only in very specific areas. Mostly Simpsons trivia. Within my circle of friends it's become a running gag and on one birthday someone brought this out as a gag.

I managed to answer every single question correctly, including ones not directed at me.

It stopped being funny after that.
posted by The Whelk at 11:44 AM on September 1, 2010


Damn it Whelk, I could have used you two weeks ago at the local pub quiz's Simpsons night. How the hell was I supposed to remember that Ned Flanders' first name is short for Nedward?
posted by joedan at 12:40 PM on September 1, 2010


it's really not a vent you want to open.
posted by The Whelk at 12:46 PM on September 1, 2010


Although anything after Season 11 is kinda hazy
posted by The Whelk at 12:47 PM on September 1, 2010


If I could figure out a way to do it, Whelk, I'd challenge you to a duel.
posted by griphus at 2:37 PM on September 1, 2010


It did seem a little vague to me, despite liking Gibson, but that bullet pointed list that someone else posted does highlight what I liked about it.

Although anything after Season 11 is kinda hazy

For you and the writers both.
posted by codacorolla at 2:42 PM on September 1, 2010


When you say

[Gibson's] metioning the Panopticon is a blatant theft from Shoshannah Zuboff


do you mean any liberal-arts college freshman instead? Or are you kidding?
posted by Football Bat at 4:19 PM on September 1, 2010


His metioning the Panopticon is a blatant theft from Shoshannah Zuboff

Jeremy Bentham wrote about this in 1785. Or maybe he stole the idea from Shoshannah Zuboff, I'm not sure.
posted by Wolof at 6:23 PM on September 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


My Simpsons Super-Power is probably stuck in Seasons 1-9, if I was being honest.
posted by The Whelk at 6:26 PM on September 1, 2010


I was sort of disappointed that he mentioned the Panopticon -- even if only to say that Google is not the Panopticon -- because the Panopticon has become a sci-fi/cyberpunk trope that has been around in these types of discussions since at least the days of Mondo 2000.

That snark aside - I think that Gibson is great and that his more recent books have been getting better, with Spook Country as his best in quite a long time. I also think its admirable that he long ago stopped trying to write "cyberpunk" books and rather jump into something different that was almost guaranteed to disappoint the hard-core Molly Millions fans. Just think how easy it would have been to keep cranking out part x+1 of the Sprawl series and attending SF conventions.

What's great about Gibson is that he really is not a nerd about technology in the way that Stephenson is or the way that most of us at MeFi are. He comes at technology and technological change with much more of an oddball perspective. Looking forward to ZH.
posted by Mid at 6:41 PM on September 1, 2010


I admit to scanning this thread after reading conifer’s holding a few other writer's over and against Gibson.

Such thinking (I hesitate to call it criticism) is small-mindedness in self-absorbed form. Insecure auto-didactic (i.e. untrained and narrowly educated) readers often compare writers as if they were in competition. Such readers sometimes construe writing as a zero-sum popularity game, rather than viewing writers as contributors to a much larger “conversation,” participants in rich and multi-faceted cultural dialogue.

Yeah, I'm disparaging your ability to make sense of what you read because you swiped at one of the most important writers of the late Twentieth Century as if you have some kind of authority in the matter. I sort of can’t help myself.

The short version of this is that not everyone agrees with your pronouncement of which writers are better or culturally more significant than other writers, as if that even matters.
posted by mistersquid at 8:57 PM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought conifer's post was definitely more culturally significant than mistersquid's post.
posted by Justinian at 9:22 PM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


conifer: I find the level of knee-jerk "it's from Gibson so it must be good/prescient" to be astounding. His stuff can be fun, but for me it doesn't much exceed the level of pulp.
Now watch the vitriol roll in that someone would dare to cast aspersions on the prophet that is Gibson.


Pretending for a moment that Gibson really does fancy himself a PROPHET, wouldn't the wisest way to infiltrate the zeitgeist be via "the level of pulp". I mean, John the Baptist didn't waste his time trying to win over the powers-that-be, did he? He came in from the fringes, the original "voice from the wilderness".

and now I will drink more red wine.
posted by philip-random at 10:21 PM on September 1, 2010


I can't remember which of his recent novels involved a quick stop in Tokyo (was it Pattern Recognition? I think maybe.), but as was mentioned upthread, he's got an amazing way of bringing a setting to life. I've mentioned before how living on a day to day basis in Japan can be pretty dull, how it's really very easy to become inured to the fantastical aspects of this place. Nearly the only time I remember how fun this place can be is when friends come to visit for the first time*, or when I read his description of Tokyo. I was stunned by that. It was like I suddenly remembered, hey, wait a sec, I live there, and it's pretty fucking snazzy.

Note: not entirely true, there are some wonderful aspects to living in Japan that pop up every once in a while. I don't mean to burst any bubbles.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:04 PM on September 1, 2010


Swiss Toni: Using Google is...like making love to a beautiful woman. It opens up smoothly before you and allows you to stipulate your requirements. Within moments you are presented with dozens, hundreds, thousands of possibilities. Are you content with the first thing suggested? Or do you risk going a little deeper? My my, that does sound intriguing. But what's this? A paywall?
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:15 AM on September 2, 2010


True fact: His books have by and large aged better than this interview thingy which, um. It's been a while since I've seen something so painfully early 90s. The interview bits with Gibson himself aren't bad, but the interstitial/context bits... Wow. Wow.

Oh, that was awesome. I especially liked how they flashed FICTION in large red letters over the interstitial where they were describing cyberspace.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:23 AM on September 2, 2010


Insecure auto-didactic (i.e. untrained and narrowly educated) readers often compare writers as if they were in competition.

Oh, but they are in competition. Aside for competition in sales, awards, and media coverage, they are, most importantly, in competition for my attention.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:20 AM on September 2, 2010


Using Google is...like making love to a beautiful woman.

That sounds more like fucking a prostitute. Not that there's anything wrong with it ...

one of the most important writers of the late Twentieth Century

I missed that. You must jest.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:22 AM on September 2, 2010


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