Google Will Soon Replace God and The Church
by David Blue
What I have long predicted is now coming to pass: Google believes it should assume control.
Out of all the technology companies that have made my knees knock and my voice hoarse and my Tweets manic as a technoheretic in the past several years, Jumbo Google would easily take home the winning trophy for Dystopian of the Millennium. I have been rehearsing an especially dear pet prophecy of mine, unsolicited, to family, friends, and podcast guests since 2011 in which I end up arguing quite convincingly that Google is a dead ringer for the 16th-century Vatican: an inherently self-isolating organization with an absolute monopoly yielding gargantuan levels of essentially passive income from a service which nearly everybody transacts with, but only Google understands (and is therefore assumed to be its only possible provider,) which inevitably develops such a distance from the rest of the populace and their way of life (in tandem with total notoriety and celebrity among them all) not intentionally out of malice, but from the delusion of mythically-bestowed philanthropic duty that is borned of and compounded by this economic and cultural isolation in a perpetual accumulation of power and wealth that radicalizes the monopolizers — the majority already highly predisposed to zeal as they would’ve needed to be in order to find themselves in this singular, universally powerful position over every other class — and leaves their egocentric minds to wander exempt from all criticism save for that of fellow radicalized monopolizers, who together begin to feel more and more comfortable wondering aloud about themselves in increasingly fantastic presumptions: what if all of this was bestowed upon us because we are superior to them? What if it is our divine responsibility as superior beings to take charge and shepherd the common people as our sheep — for they cannot possibly know as well as we what is truly best for them?
You see it, right? And you can feel a very specific flavor of terror that is both awed by the scale of the circumstances created by so few human minds and sincerely amused by the absoluteness of your own inability to alter them in any way. Perhaps you even recognize this taste as one perfected by Christianity’s ancient advertising business, but Google knows so much about you that it’s rumored to’ve been selling user data to the Judeochristian God for some time now at a 10% discount, and so we extrapolate and anticipate, yes?
Of course, it’s admittedly satisfying for me to deliver you to this godfearing place in the most perverse look what I saw first that you didn’t see because you’re just not as bright but lucky for you, I’m so fucking generous with my wisdom sort of thinking around which the entire personas and livelihoods of fringe movement fanatics are built upon, but this is my one thing, okay? I’ve been waiting years for the right time to formally argue this theory in depth, and — thanks to this year’s public spotlight finally pivoting on the giants who’ve been silently swallowing their competition and relentlessly forcing their already ridiculous margins higher and higher in relative obscurity for decades, the time has come, indeed. The common people’s trust in Google had a godawful week.
Don’t Be Evil
On Monday, Gizmodo reported that twelve frustrated Google employees were quitting the company in protest of their work assisting the Department of Defense to “implement machine learning to classify images gathered by drones” for the detail fleeting Project Maven, despite some 4000 employee signatures on a letter addressed to CEO Sundar Pichai requesting (in full) that he “cancel this project immediately,” and “draft, publicize, and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology,” citing the infamous “Don’t Be Evil” motto, which Google then proceeded to remove from its code of conduct for the first time in 18 years the day after the New York Times article went to press, on April 5th.
On initial approach to the abstract of this story, from the ass to our thoughts arrives an easy narrative of a Silicon Valley mutiny comprised of twelve brave, conscientious souls who’ve been eaten up inside by their complicity in the filthy deals made by their power-obsessed CEO over scotch and cigars in a dark D.C. study — kept awake for months by the sound of his puffing cackles at satellite images of dead toddlers in a bombed-out street.
Ah ha, we say. That man is no good, and he just wouldn’t listen! They knew they didn’t have a choice… They only did what they had to do…
The reality of internal disagreements at Google, though, manages to be even more theatrical. The sheer volume of correspondence must surely be beyond anything capable of the enduser’s imagination, so let’s phone a friend: my favorite peek into the day-to-days of inter-Google existence is an old blog post by Benjamin Tilly on his first month at the company in which he was compelled almost immediately to describe in great detail how best to “deal with a lot of email in gmail” at peak efficiency using shortcuts and labels. “As you get email, you need to be aggressive about deciding what you need to see, versus what is context specific.”
Now we have a bit better idea of the aggressive emailing that was a sure constant on a normal workday at Google in 2010, so it must’ve been deafening after 8 years of Gmail development as 4000 employees no doubt vented, debated, and decided to organize last month, though without making much headway because the leadership’s response was apparently “complicated by the fact that Google claims it is only providing open-source software to Project Maven,” this new knowledge having significant effect on our mind’s image of Sundar Pichai’s activities in Washington: he is now swapping seats with a frustrated Colin Powell in order to install OpenOffice onto his desktop from a flash drive, and we recall that Google’s Googleplex headquarters resembles nowhere in modern life more than a brand new playground built in a design language borrowing heavily from Spy Kids. And though these Twelve disciples are unnamed for the moment, a few of them could immediately land book deals by going public, and every single one would always have by default not only the badge of “I landed a job at Google,” (which is really to say I have hit Life’s maximum level cap,) but “I worked at Google for a while, but ended up quitting to do something else,” which is guaranteed to make you the most interesting, intellectually superior person present in whatever crowd for the rest of your life. The ultra-cool Sarah Cooper quit Google to become a comedian and even got to talk to Kara Swisher! I won’t pretend to understand big tech’s diminutive bastardization of prestige, but “more than 90 academics” jumping to publish an open letter (adjacent to a huge DONATE: Support the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots button) in which they “write in solidarity with the 3100+ Google employees” who’s terrible boss decided to help some lackeys in the Pentagon set up their email and didn’t text back for a whole hour doesn’t sound 100% sincere. Notably, I don’t know how or why the fuck 90 people would go about collaborating on a single document, but if it really was managed, they definitely used Google Docs… At one point, it was fun to think about the history of the friendly side-scroller-playing garage ghouls and dorm dorks who gave cooky, wacko names to their dot com startups in parody and defiance of the lame-ass surname anagrams on the buildings of their established competitors, but those who’ve stuck around have only done so by becoming expert at SUCKING UP EVERYTHING around them, and it pisses me off every day how worried I am that my species will finally be done in by a company with a name like Yahoo! and be known only to a bunch of adolescent interdimensional silicon blobs 30 million years in the future as that bipedal race who remained dignified until the last 0.01% of their reign on Earth, when in way less than a single generation, they all just went FUCKING INSANE and blew themselves up because they suddenly hated all sense.
“Google” is perhaps the worst of these to have to shout in fear and/or anger in your last moments as it sounds in American English like you’ve startled your subject with a ticklish pinch followed so immediately by an esophagus-busting chokehold that the two events appear simultaneous, and in real English English, it almost always sounds like a parent speaking of a character on a pre-K children’s television programme whom they find quite foul and upsetting, but will manage to refrain from expressing so otherwise because they know that Teletubbies shit is the most quickly forgotten stage of television viewership. It’s fascinating how exclusive the word “Google” is to American English because in everything else it really is complete nonsense, but lets halt all etymological discussions right now because we’ve only now just finished with Monday.
The Soul Ledger
On Thursday, all of my Google experiences, suppositions, and soul-detaching screenshots were usurped when a thoroughly alarming internal company video called The Selfish Ledger was leaked to The Verge, which I watched once then and do not want to watch again for the sake of this piece, but I will. Though the big V has been disappointingly timid for years about editorializing — when tech journalism desperately needs some confident, informed opinion more than ever — Vlad Savov’s accompanying article should be read in its entirety, to which I can add my own terror where he perhaps could not. The production style is technically identical to that of the very popular thinkpiece-esque, motion-graphics-paired-with-obligatory-sharpie illustrated videos which you find playing at max volume on your mom’s iPad from where she’s fallen asleep on the couch at 9PM, but the repeating stock string soundtrack multiplies one’s discomfort as such that we would all end up in the fetal position without remembering the transition were it not for the appearance of trusty old Dank Jenkins, who’s face I thankfully associate heavily enough with his infamous down-and-out Tweet to be a welcome respite in attention before the very scary hypothesis for which it’s been buttering me up, as best summed by Vlad:
The system would be able to “plug gaps in its knowledge and refine its model of human behavior” — not just your particular behavior or mine, but that of the entire human species. “By thinking of user data as multigenerational,” explains Foster, “it becomes possible for emerging users to benefit from the preceding generation’s behaviors and decisions.” Foster imagines mining the database of human behavior for patterns, “sequencing” it like the human genome, and making “increasingly accurate predictions about decisions and future behaviors.”
The next time the what if they do something scary question comes up in a casual conversation about Google, you’ll have something a lot more substantial than just speculation. Or will you? The Verge reached out for comment and got an awfully convenient response.
This is a thought-experiment by the Design team from years ago that uses a technique known as ‘speculative design’ to explore uncomfortable ideas and concepts in order to provoke discussion and debate.
Wow! Leave it up to grand ole Googe to reveal the ultimate excuse for just about any suggestion or behavior, though it does seem almost deliberately uncomfortable, doesn’t it? No matter — whether or not this video was ever about a project or tangible product development, or simply to explore uncomfortable ideas because it is proof that the company has reached that critical Vatican stage — if you’ll remember — where they now feel comfortable exploring Very Bad, but Very easily made Real Ideas amongst themselves about what would happen if they allowed their system to nudge its users around a different, slightly less optimal route to the bar, let’s say — without their knowledge — in order for the system to collect traffic data for the sake of its own interests? Which would be, technically, in the interest of all Ledger users now and in the future, so why not?
The ledger could be given a focus, shifting it from a system which not only tracks our behavior, but offers direction towards a desired result.”
This, my dear privacy-obsessed friends, is the real issue with data collection — its power over huge groups by way of their behavior and it is never going to be remedied in any significant way by ad-blockers or VPNs because the EndUser shall always out number you 50 to 1, even decades from now. EndUser does not understand — or, crucially, have any desire to understand anything technical about what leads to the PewDiePie videos playing on his filthy screen. Here’s a great opportunity to escape Silicon Valley’s technolibertarianism and resign your Darwinian empathy in favor of meaningful and truly-effective action: if you want to avoid a future Google Church (or Google Government, more worryingly,) you should invest your time, effort, and knowledge into electing officials more capable of understanding and regulating Big Tech.
The internet as it stands is made possible by Google as the goto resource for online advertising. In 2016, “Google held 75.8 percent of the search ad market, bringing in $24.6 billion in revenue from search ads,” according to Recode. By 2019, “that’s expected to grow to $36.62 billion in revenue, or 80.2 percent of the market.” Google’s edge in user behavior and targeted advertising combined with their extensive resources available developers to integrate independent platforms with Google’s software services at various levels makes it very difficult for any advertising-funded individual or organization to compete online without dipping in to the Google universe. YouTube — a Google property since 2006 — has actively invested in and supported a new career path entirely within their own platform that is rapidly becoming popularly aspired-to by young children, while the reality of existence as a full-time YouTuber is far less glamorous than the immediately-visible surface would indicate, and the effort already expended by my generation in its pursuit has already made us insane.
thanks google. pic.twitter.com/1jRtrD77R3— David Blue (@NeoYokel) October 2, 2017
So, what would the internet look like if Google didn’t exist? We know they’ve been working with the government now on various projects, but what if some terrible exposed transgression of theirs suddenly warranted an immediate shutdown and seizure of all Google properties? Well, we know from a post on Quora by Googler Ashish Kedia that even 5 years ago, the sudden absence of Google for “2–3 mins” set the internet into a bit of a panic, reducing overall traffic by 40%. In the time since, we’ve all grown exponentially more dependent on Google properties: billions of people rely on Google Maps for directions and, thousands of companies (including the Pentagon and other government institutions) rely on Gmail and GSuites for intercommunication, file sharing, task management, etc., and more and more academic institutions rely on Chromebook devices running connection-dependent operating systems. It’s not much of a stretch to argue that Google’s sudden disappearance would constitute a Civil Emergency in the United States, which will only become a stronger and more serious incentive for regulatory bodies to look the other way.
Though the tangible results of advertising have been quantified significantly in the past 20 years, one can’t help but wonder after watching YouTube ads for the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class on toy unboxing videos if the companies who spend big bucks on Google advertising understand where their money is going, but they know that if they don’t advertise there, their competitors will. This, of course, is a fundamental practice of a monopoly, and it’s yielded Google so much fucking money that they cannot possibly spend it fast enough, as evidenced by their investments in life extension — so that, perhaps, they will have more time on Earth to figure it out.
When you build a collection of the world’s smartest people in a self-sufficient environment that discourages exploration of other lifestyles and ideas, and you sustain the society with a gargantuan, relatively low-maintenance revenue stream, you create a culture which is not only well-primed for isolationism, but is also extremely inefficient. In fact, with its vast collection of abandoned products and properties, Google must surely be one of the most inefficient companies in history. Thinking back on recent software releases along with its recent entries into the hardware space, Google is also one of the worst competing tech companies. Very little aside from Gmail, Google Photos, Google Maps, and Chrome have found their place or garnered significant usership. Google Play Music is unintuitive and impossible, Google Allo and Google+ are all but forgotten addendums to other services, and Google Search — its core, original function — has been out of control for years, and all of them are designed blandly and excruciatingly tiring to look at.
If this all has stirred nothing more in you than a desire to eliminate Google from your own online life as much as possible, there are alternatives in almost every one of the sphere’s they dominate. As of late, DuckDuckGo has accumulated a fair amount of buzz and coverage as a private, more relevant alternative to Google’s plain old search engine. Though it is clever enough to list us as the first result for “extratone,” I’ve found it simply insufficient as a replacement in my own life because, essentially, it rarely delivers what I’m looking for. By contrast, Dropbox Paper is such an elegant cloud notetaking and word processing software that it makes Google Docs look simply idiotic (and warrants its own review very shortly.) For getting around, know that MapQuest is not only still around — it’s now a very competitive mobile navigation app.
I, myself, have allowed Google as complete of access to my information and behavior as possible because I believe “privacy” is a completely futile endeavor if one wishes to be a part of society, though I do often use alternatives to Google services simply because I fucking hate the way they look. If you want a more complete list of services and software that allow one to shun the Google God entirely, you’ll be forced to seek out less dignified sources like Lifehacker and Reddit and decide if the additional time you’ll spend using most of them to accomplish the same tasks is really worth your digital angst.
If Google were to be more explicit with its users and staff about its aspirations to take over control of our lives, there will be little to do but accept the future they intend to create because they’ve long been too powerful to control. In the meantime, I’d suggest you continue to use whatever software works best for you and refrain from wasting your time fretting on conspiratorial suppositions of what the tech industry may be doing to “invade your privacy,” because there is no longer any such thing, nor will there be ever again. However, I would also urge to you worship your own Gods, whomever they may be, for Google will never be worthy. I, for one, shall only pray to our Mother Sun.