Google’s Crystal Ball

Some time ago, a friend of mine was raising funds to help support a recently widowed mother of three. She asked the benefactors to sign up on a Google form. I baulked at the prospect, not of making a contribution – which I did – but of being forced to use a software product I didn’t want to use.

When my friend asked why I didn’t want to use Google Forms, I explained that I fundamentally took issue with the Google Corporation’s “invisible hand” that steers millions towards using their products, without giving it a second thought, simply because it’s convenient. My friend said there are bigger things in life to worry about, such as survival, and hence she couldn’t be bothered about Google.

I disagree. In fact I disagree so fundamentally that I decided to write an essay about it.

Bothering about the world’s entrancement with Google is indeed a question of survival: the survival of the free thinking mind.

Let me tell you why.

The most valuable resource in the world isn’t oil or iron or diamonds. It’s the people who can transform those raw resources into something useful, and get them where they are needed. In order for people to think and move and act freely, they need information. The better the information they have about something, the more freely they can act with respect to it. When one wants to manipulate someone into doing something, one way to do so is to employ the half-truth (though half-lie would be a better name). It entails telling never telling the whole truth, but only enough to give people pause for long enough to be primed to listen to what follows the half-truth. That’s the part that’s the lie.

This is what the Google Corporation did, at least to some extent, during the Covid-19 pandemic. I still remember “googling” certain information about the efficacy, or inefficacy, of the vaccines, only to come up empty on the searches. I had to manually input web addresses of blogs with scientific papers about the vaccines in order to find them. At the same time, several videos were deleted off of YouTube, another Google product, simply because they challenged the ideological line that we were all meant to toe.

I came away with the impression that the Google Corporation wasn’t interested in telling me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – so help me God.
That experience with the Google Corporation during the pandemic broke the enchantment that the Google crystal ball of products held over me. I made the effort to count just how many of its products I use. At that time, they were more than ten, including contacts, maps, calendars, tasks, photos and Youtube.

That surprised me.

If a company would purport to control all of the world’s information, and yet demonstrate no qualms of conscience about presenting the public with only half the picture about something as important as a public health crisis, was that a company whose products I wanted to use without a second thought?

Healthy debate is all about free thinking. Healthy debate wouldn’t stifle a lie. It would expose it. Challenge it. Face it and rip it to shreds. It would also try to save whatever bit of truth might be hidden within the folds of a lie. Manipulation on the other hand throws the baby out with the bathwater. It is not interested in enrobing people with freedom. It’s interested in robbing them of their freedom.

I started asking my friends and family the same question I had asked myself: how many Google products do you use? Only one or two of them took the question seriously enough to actually count. The rest just shrugged and said it’s no big deal. Therein lies the true genius of Google, and the true danger they represent. By wanting to fully hold people’s information, they have stopped people from wanting to be fully informed.

In bygone eras, the colonial project was all about controlling the resources of far flung territories and opening up new markets there. In the information era, a new resource has been discovered. Data. And a new market has also been opened up: the mind. In the past, colonial governments would kickstart their imperial projects through corporations such as the British or the Dutch East India Companies. In our era, the colonial companies have done away with grandiose sounding names and adopted catchier, more innocent soundings ones.

Like Google.

The time has come for us to think about how many Google products we use, and whether that quantity is justified. It’s a question of survival: the survival of your free thinking mind.