Julian Assange on the ‘Banality’ of Google

Julian Assange’s assessment of “THE New Digital Age” – a book by Google ‘visionaries’ Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, will go down as one of the most withering take downs of the Google inspired tech culture permeating modern society ever written:

In the book the authors happily take up the white geek’s burden. A liberal sprinkling of convenient, hypothetical dark-skinned worthies appear: Congolese fisherwomen, graphic designers in Botswana, anticorruption activists in San Salvador and illiterate Masai cattle herders in the Serengeti are all obediently summoned to demonstrate the progressive properties of Google phones jacked into the informational supply chain of the Western empire.

The authors offer an expertly banalized version of tomorrow’s world: the gadgetry of decades hence is predicted to be much like what we have right now — only cooler. “Progress” is driven by the inexorable spread of American consumer technology over the surface of the earth. Already, every day, another million or so Google-run mobile devices are activated. Google will interpose itself, and hence the United States government, between the communications of every human being not in China (naughty China). Commodities just become more marvelous; young, urban professionals sleep, work and shop with greater ease and comfort; democracy is insidiously subverted by technologies of surveillance, and control is enthusiastically rebranded as “participation”; and our present world order of systematized domination, intimidation and oppression continues, unmentioned, unafflicted or only faintly perturbed.

Assange’s critique is hyperbolic, but still impossible to dismiss as the search giant continues to collaborate closely with the state and share information about the public. The piece serves as a warning, and a rather frightening one:

The advance of information technology epitomized by Google heralds the death of privacy for most people and shifts the world toward authoritarianism. This is the principal thesis in my book, “Cypherpunks.” But while Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Cohen tell us that the death of privacy will aid governments in “repressive autocracies” in “targeting their citizens,” they also say governments in “open” democracies will see it as “a gift” enabling them to “better respond to citizen and customer concerns.” In reality, the erosion of individual privacy in the West and the attendant centralization of power make abuses inevitable, moving the “good” societies closer to the “bad” ones.

 

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  • dbtheonly

    Ben,

    MANY years ago, I read an article in the Washington Post stating in “1984” Big Brother would need Valium. In Orwell’s book the flow of information can be managed & contained. In the hyperconnected world of the 21st Century; no such luck.

    (off topic side note: I finally read one of Thomas Friedman’s books & understand your frustration at the term “hyperconnectivity”. I’m more puzzled that in Ch. 4 he talks about how the Bush Tax Cuts ballooned the deficit but in Ch.10 he cites the BTC as a failure of the Democrats to be bi-partisan.)

    The problem comes in that all “information” carries equal creditability. My e-mail in box gets your notices that my comments have been responded to along side pleas for aid from Nigerian Princesses. Those are easy ones; but notices that my on-line banking has been hacked? We’ve talked about creditability of on-line news sources.

    Oliver raises an interesting question as well, if we have constitutional protections for “journalists”, how do we define “journalist” when literally anyone with a computer can put himself up as a “news” source?

    Can Google know everything? Can they condense the information so that human beings can understand?

    My brain hurts.

    • Christopher Foxx

      Oliver raises an interesting question as well, if we have constitutional protections for “journalists”, how do we define “journalist” when literally anyone with a computer can put himself up as a “news” source?

      Perhaps the answer is to stop treating “journalists” as some special class with protections not afforded to everyone.

      • dbtheonly

        Isn’t that exactly the point Oliver makes? If so, what do you do with the 1st Amendment?