‘Don’t Be Evil’ is the memorable phrase often attributed as a sort of internal company motto at Google, and one of the points behind lecture 2 in my Journalism Technologies module at the University of Huddersfield is to get students to actively consider a bit more about the search engine they use morning, noon and night.
Looking to the writing of Evgeny Morozov to provide a little fly in the ointment, I pointed up his use of the term ‘technological solutionism’ as a critique of our desire to let tech solve problems which perhaps don’t really exist in the first place. Activity tracking apps such as Fitbits are an example I used to illustrate this – we’re all told that doing 10,000 steps every day will help keep us healthy, but studies have begun to imply that some users take that as an excuse to be less healthy in our areas of their lives, such as diet, so the effect is in fact negated. Google has examples from its own stable of products, not least the now partly abandoned Google Books project.
In the workshops I asked students about the other Google products they used. Gmail was almost unanimous, it seems to have had notable growth at the expense of other email providers over the past year or two. When I asked why, the responses were all of the ones you might expect – “it’s free” “it’s simple to use” “it’s just easier” – and are all the same reasons why the main Google search engine product first scaled the heights back in the early 2000s.
It’s week two of our new first year module at the University of Huddersfield, Journalism Technologies. And it’s Google week.
In the practical sessions we’re focusing on some simple tips to make Google work better for journalists, ranging from Advanced Search to Google Alerts to Google Trends.
Meanwhile, yesterday’s lecture posed the question in the title of this blogpost: is ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Google a force for good or, well, evil? There was a reading from Christian Fuchs’ book Social Media: A Critical Introduction, while the concept introduced towards the end of the lecture was Technological Solutionism, coined by another sceptical voice in Evgeny Morozov.
Most of the students seemed to appreciate that I wanted them to take a more critical eye to a tool they have used for virtually every day of their lives for as long as they can remember, but still generally came down on the good side of the ledger in the end.
When I asked for a show of hands on who had a Google Account, and picked one student to explain why, she said honestly that she just got fed up with being asked whether she wanted a Google account every time she went on one of their myriad services, so gave in and got one. Anyone who spends any time on the internet, or indeed has ever tried shopping in Tesco without a Clubcard, an probably appreciate that.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged Christian Fuchs, Dotcom crash, Evgeny Morozov, Google, Journalism Technologies, Ken Auletta, Larry Page, Mel Karmazin, PageRank, SEO, Sergey Brin, Technological Solutionism, University of Huddersfield, Yahoo