Sunday, January 29, 2012

What Would Happen If I Broke Up With Google?

by John T. Spencer

I'm bothered that Google has a profile on me. I've known it for years, but something about the new Terms and Services (I'd go Google it and add a link there, but I'm too lazy) seems like a creepier step closer to Big Brother.  Which I think is the problem. I already view Google as a Big Brother - a giant android there to help me, adding the training wheels to life and pushing me on my way so that I can function.

I make the assumption that my data is safe and that this profile is somehow different from the real me that taps away at a machine. But if the online me is still me, a part of me, full of interests and ideas and questions and drives - then I'm making a bold assumption about the inherent benevolence of Big Brother Google.

To illustrate the power of this codependent relationship, I'm thinking about what it would look like if I had a falling out with Google.  This has already happened in real-life with my twin brother and the lasting effects are that I'm a little more insecure relationally and I deeply miss the man who shares such a long history with me. On a relational level, the impact is subtly present. However, in terms of functioning, I'm doing okay at life without him.

Now, consider a falling out with Big Brother Google. In one day, I would lose all my contacts. I would lose my calendar, both in terms of what I have already done and in terms of what I need to do. I would have to ask sheepishly for people's birthdays. I would lose my ability to communicate with distant friends through e-mail. I would lose my blog, the domain name that goes with it and the community that has stuck with me for several years. I would lose whole manuscripts of books I wrote and books I'm trying to write. I would lose our family's budget and critical work documents and the fragments of spiritual journals that I started and then abandoned out of boredom. I would lose important things like the PD site I am developing right now and insignificant endeavors like the sketchy videos I've added to my blog.

In other words, I would lose a chunk of life. I would lose a sense of place. I'm sure I would find the manuscripts on my backup hard drive and I would find a way to go to Wordpress and I would hope that people still find me on Twitter. Still, I would instantly break relationships through lack of organization. I would feel lost.

There's something unnerving about how much I depend upon one corporation in order to function in this world. I still have a voice, but I'm willingly filtering it through the white noise of Google, hoping that when they claim "don't be evil" as a mantra, they'll stick to it.


  1. You can easily take your data from Google with you though. Here's how:

    Of course, I use all kinds of Google products and don't mind about any profile because there's nothing secret there.

    1. I use Google for everything - which is why it is, on some level, really unnerving.

    2. I always joke that "Google owns me," but I'm wondering if the joke's on me.

  2. interesting to me how it seems the web is trying to teach us so much about ourselves.
    again, to me, just now, if i zoom out, what you describe is what we have done, in a sense, to kids in school. all they do, it often seems, is to prep for a test, in order to get that grade or piece of paper, to "get in" places in the future.
    today, looking at school, and the grades and the credentialing, many of us call that into question. not only does this process, done in extreme efficiency, strip us of our own culture, our own curiosity, it gives this false assumption that that credential is us.
    so - what about google. it's a great holding place. it's helpful. i love it, it's like i got a great, light, carry on bag. but it can't be you. it doesn't define you. you're not defineable... it seems definition deadens, no?

    the web is teaching me that the less i carry with me, like the less clutter in my house, the more i am me. the more i rely on the vulnerability in context, rather than an accumulation i soon become dependent upon.

    i guess i'm thinking, keep loading up google, it's a great sharing place, but along the lines of Shirky's cognitive surplus, the value is in you John, it's in us. the people. in the conversations we have. as cool as all the stuff you put on google is, it's nothing compared to you, and even better, the you you will be tomorrow....because of the putting on google you have done, not so much what you have left there.

    i don't know.. just what i'm thinking, seeing now...

  3. Worse yet, what if Google broke up with me? Since last year I have been upgrading my tech use in class primarily through Google sites, docs, calendar, etc. However, just recently it really struck me that I don’t have total control of my content. Of course I can decide if docs or sites are “public” or who I “share” it with, but what if someone hacked Google, or the company became greedy and went “evil?!” I am extremely satisfied with the enhanced leaning as a result of me becoming Googlized, but for peace of mind I’m going to be more diligent with having copies downloaded in Word and saved on a flash drive or elsewhere. David's comments above were helpful also.


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