My blood pressure rose this morning when I read Google CEO Erik Schmidt’s rebuttal of Rupert Murdoch’s attack on Google (published 1 December as an op-ed in Wall Street Journal, of all places).
Not because he strikes back at the old newspaper dinosaurs. I don’t mind, I hardly read paper media any more. The reason for my momentarily increasing pulse rate is Schmidt’s opening lines: “It’s the year 2015. The compact device in my hand delivers me the world, one news story at a time […] the device knows who I am, what I like, and what I have already read (my emphasis).
I don’t actually mind about the privacy thing. There is too much info for the new Leviathan to crunch already, so I don’t care about the surveillance problem. What really irritates me is the idea that a search machine is supposed to deliver “what I like and what I have already read”. Fine, if I opt for that possibility — but I also want to be able to opt out. Sometimes I browse to find what I know I want to find — but often I browse to find something I didn’t know I wanted to find — something that shakes me out of the expected. I want to be surprised!
It’s like falling in love: meeting someone you’ve never dreamed of. It’s like science: detecting phenomena you never expected. It’s like visual art: viewing the world in a totally unanticipated way. It’s like literature: exploring news ways of putting human experience into words.
I’m not the only one who wants to opt out; the problem has been raised several times before. But the fact that Google’s CEO unwittingly repeats the old formula for web search in his 2015 vision scares the hell out of me. Enough to put me in a state of alarm this otherwise tranquil Tuesday morning in Copenhagen, where the climate meeting has just begun only two kilometers from where we live.