Anticipating Evil: What Happens When Google Wins?

Posted: September 22, 2011 in Culture, Media, Technology
Tags: , , , , , ,

With great power comes great responsibility-Spiderman (Or Possibly Stan Lee)

You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain-Harvey Dent

Today, I evangelized for Google.

I don’t approve, in general, of selling products for companies for free. I’ve made a career out of doing the opposite, in fact. But today, without even thinking about the fact that I wasn’t getting paid, I did the following:

  1. I posted multiple links on my soon (within the next few hours) to be defunct Facebook page to my Google+ account, and encouraged all of my friends to join, as they will no longer be able to interact with me on their favorite social network.
  2. I walked a friend through the features and benefits of Google Docs over Microsoft Office and converted him to its use.
  3. I walked a complete stranger through the same process; even going so far as to create a shared doc so she could see the value of the collaboration tools.
  4. I talked to no fewer than four people, in real life, about the advantages (when they finally arrive in Canada) of buying a Chromebook.

This was all in the span of about 9 hours.

I’m passionate about what Google is doing; with social, with the cloud, and with productivity in general. I think that this whole concept of everything being rolled into a browser, making work, life, and everything in between utterly seamless and essentially without thought, is the natural maturation of the Internet. I believe in these concepts so strongly that I will soon be making some very large bets regarding them, at possible detriment to my financial security. (more on this later)

I also know the arguments against this consolidation of services and access. It’s the AOL (or now Apple) walled garden issue:

Image Courtesy of

But, I believe two things in response to that notion:

  1. There are already 750 million people for whom Facebook is that walled garden. It’s their home page, their source of apps, games, socialization and communication with the outside world. No one seems to be losing any sleep over it.
  2. Nature abhors a vacuüm. Search destroyed AOL’s grip on the web. Google has built its empire on search. I have faith that, if Google ever gained the same iron grip, something else would come along and destroy Google. People are beasts, and we don’t tolerate domestication or captivity with docile compliance. My money’s on Augmented Reality being the next thing. I don’t really get it, but I’m sure my kids will before second grade.


What if I’m wrong?

What if Google is actually building the perfect mouse trap.

Indulge in some paranoia with me for a while.

Image Courtesy of

I don’t really leave my browser anymore. Thanks to the modifications Google has made to the top of my browser window, I have most of my services a mere flick of the mouse away, and all of my favorite sites sit on my Chrome bookmark bar. I use Docs, Calendar, Gmail, G+ and G-Chat as exclusive services, for everything.

And I’m not alone.

These are, comparatively, great products. And they’re free. And they require no native applications or local storage. Lots and lots of people are throwing all of their online time into these channels; especially now that Google+ has gone public access.

There’s a great YouTube ad that makes the compelling argument that, if you have a Gmail account or use Google search ever, eventually you’re going to be on Google+.

They’re not wrong.

The simplicity of this marketing is brilliant; every time you open your Gmail inbox, or search for that long-lost weird bit of fetish porn you haven’t seen in five years, there it is. Your name, in the top left corner of the screen*, begging to be clicked.

Eventually you’re hitting that button. Yeah, you are. I don’t care how much willpower you think you have; it’s your ego, it always wins.

So yeah, eventually (you don’t have to rush when it’s inevitable) everyone is going to be on the service, and slowly everyone will see the benefit of all those extra buttons at the top of their window.

What then?

What if Google, once we’ve all gotten addicted to its bounty of well designed, user-friendly, free products/productivity heroin, starts charging?

What if, once we’ve all gotten used to the idea of all our stuff; our music, movies, pictures, documents, newspaper cut-out death threat letters; what if, once we’ve accepted the idea that all of our belongings are stored in a server farm somewhere, Google starts billing us for access to them?

Remember, by this point, everyone’s in the cloud, so the market for cheap, readily available, flash memory is gone. You can’t just download everything back to a hard drive; local storage is back at 2002 levels.

This** is actually a fear that is keeping a lot of people from embracing the idea of cloud computing. I talk them out of it, mostly because I don’t think the fear is valid and partly because, if I’m wrong, I don’t want to be the only one getting fu*&*d in the back of a Volkswagen.

This isn’t AOL all over again, with a new way of experiencing the Internet waiting in the wings and those stupid install disks that came in the mail everyday. People actually use and depend on these services. A lot. And more so every day.

Google’s unofficial motto is “Don’t be evil,” and I trust them. After all, anyone inept enough to create a product like Buzz can’t really be capable of Machiavellian scheming. But…what if? I’ve never experienced total world hegemony; what if it changes you in ways that lets a bit of the evil in?

We’re moving towards a future where it’s possible that we’ll all be gardening in one of three megalithic walled rain forests. Either Google, Apple, or Facebook, could wind up being your only portal to the internet. They could become the ultimate arbiters of what you get to experience.

My question is, is that a bad thing, or a good thing?

Do we want to cede all power and access to a few giant service providers, i.e. Evil Empires, for the convenience of not having to make minute but annoying choices anymore, or do we want the current landscape to remain; lots of little Rebel Alliances, warring against mostly imaginary enemies and providing data fodder for the Twitterati?

I know which path I’m embracing, and I think it’ll provide more convenience than harm. But I’m frequently, hilariously wrong, and the final bill could be…exorbitant.

Where do you think all of this is heading?

*If you’re logged into a Google service anywhere.

**Or variations of this; what if the server farms crash; what if a hacker wipes out the Internet; what if Pirates from space steal all of our porn? etc.

Graphic content in this post provided by: Video Blog of a Faux Journalist: Life = Work in Multimedia: on Walled Gardens  and

  1. I too am new to this Blog site, that was a good read, G’day Bob, i enjoy your comment’s too. As you might of guessed i am Australian, and i too have jumped on the Google cyber train, where were heading i would not have clue, maybe someday down the track, someone will offer me a choice of pill’s i don’t know.

    Will we all be divided into cyber continent’s, run by the big three, unable to communicate outside our chosen realm. What was the question, O yeah right, will we have to pay? But of course one way or the other, if we have to sift through Ad’s every 9 minute’s while were busy telling each other what we had for breakfast, i will bring up my breakfast.

    Seriously though i’m not that connected online i live mostly offline, though i do read a lot online and write the odd stupid post, sometime’s they make sense, Good work by the way very entertaining.

  2. Inam Reveley says:

    First time here. Awesome blog and great post. Well done.

  3. Yes. I liked it. Julian, how can I study for a degree in Google? Since I changed to digital photography 3 years ago started to learn Photoshop, and joined Picasa, i have filed over 4000 images (do you like the ones i sent you?) but STILL don’t understand how to share the best of them on the web. I think Picasa help is appalling, and shows me that a huge company run by and for children is blind to the needs of geriatrics. I thought Facebook would be fun – the security issues don’t worry me – but what it’s FOR remains a mystery. I am impressed that you are leaving.

    Google’s brainpower will be distributed over a large area so that a significant amount will not be found in one place – just like with republican brainpower. But how can i study Google, do you know?

    Why don’t i see ads that i can enjoy, like some on British TV? Does Google not realize that flashing, jiggling, jumping graphics enrage people? Do you think they will learn in my lifetime?

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