Wednesday, 15 February 2017 23:59

How Google’s ‘Virtual’ Domination Is Not ‘Real’ Domination


There is little doubt that Google is one of the biggest reasons why the internet is so popular in the 21st century. The ability to know any piece of information at the click of a button (or on a voice request, when you feel like it) is not only stunning, but has also redefined the way in which we accumulate knowledge.

Not only does Google provide search results, it also manages to provide a host of other services that make it easy and fun to use the Internet (ignoring the privacy concerns for now) to get tasks done – and also prove our friends wrong when it comes to trivia on our favourite films or celebrities!

Of late, the student community has voiced its concerns about the need for teachers, textbooks, and ‘education’ itself, when everything is readily available online. The fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on the side you take) solution is that Google can never truly replace ‘education’, and will always co-exist with other sources and means of spreading information. Google can never truly be the ‘big boss’ that we all envision, and there are plenty of reasons why.

Not All Information Is True

Let’s face it – the ultimate issue is that since information on Google is crowd-sourced, it is not necessarily true. This is a big heartbreak that we will all have to learn to live with. It is far too easy to set up a website and upload information. It is also very easy (although a bit expensive) to ensure that the website comes right at the top of the search results – all thanks to Google’s Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Thus, it is hard to trust any information that is available- it requires years of patience and hard work to ensure that the information available is the truest possible. However, thanks to the feedback mechanism that social media has created, this issue can be resolved to a small extent.

There Is No Absolute Truth

Today, social media has ensured that everyone, irrespective of their gender, caste, religion, country and language, has a voice. The ability to speak out is perhaps the greatest plus-point that social media has offered to us.

This, however, is also its biggest drawback. In case of any incident, there will always be multiple viewpoints, all of which may seem to be equally true. It requires great skill to be able to know which version is the absolute truth. Often, this becomes an impossible task. The democratic spirit may ensure that all is heard, but the subsequent information overload resulting from this makes the task of distinguishing the right from the wrong extremely difficult. In cases where ‘everyone’ seems to be right, Google will feed you information you ‘want’ to hear, irrespective of its implications in the larger context.

Information Overload

As mentioned previously, information overload is indeed a key issue. The sheer number of results Google shows within milliseconds can make one’s head spin. Distinguishing the truth from the fabrications within this sea of information may take up a lot of time, and may not be a ‘fun’ activity.

As the number of devices vying for  our attention grows each day, we constantly find ourselves buried under a mountain of information that can cause more harm than good. This overload of information can never truly be fought against – sometimes it is better to follow the textbooks.

Waste Of Time For Students

In light of these reasons, it is not always a good idea to ‘Google’ the night before an exam, without a textbook or syllabus to guide. Without an idea of the ‘age-appropriate’ content or materials that are provided by the syllabuses and textbooks, it is highly unlikely that we would all pass our exams by ‘Googling’. It may indeed translate into a waste of time, energy and effort. Looks like textbooks aren’t dead after all!

It is quite hard to see how Google can reduce our cranial capacities and also put textbooks in the museum. It will always be one of the best search engines, and undoubtedly push the boundaries of possibilities. However, it can never truly replace the power of our brains. If anything else, Google has only served to increase the capacity – as we now have the ability to remember larger amounts of data. We have also significantly learnt to identify and avoid the dangerous waters of the Internet, and also increased the rate of performance at our jobs, again thanks to Google’s ‘interconnected services’.  When one looks at the ‘interconnected services’ that Google provides, one may be tempted to think that there is no stopping the Google influence now – but that again is not absolutely true.

It is true that Google services such as Drive, Sheets, Docs, AdWords and YouTube have redefined what it means to work in the digital age, but having said that, these are not the only options that customers have. Competing services from Microsoft, Apple and other smaller companies provide a more ‘open’ playing field. Despite Google still being the most popular among available options, it has been confined by its competitors. Google cannot simply do whatever it wants, especially at the cost of ‘consumer privacy’, which companies like Apple are working so hard to protect.

In the connected world that we now live in, it is of paramount importance that our individual privacy isn’t sacrificed. Although Google may claim otherwise, the truth is quite clear- uses are being tracked, every minute they are online, in order to provide better and more ‘relevant’ information. This is quite a dicey issue, and one that needs careful planning and deliberation, before laws and policies are framed around Internet services for the modern age. Techniques like ‘differential privacy’ that Apple uses are not foolproof either. What is done on the Internet stays on the Internet, after all. Thus, everyone leaves a ‘digital footprint’, which can be exploited by anyone with the requisite knowledge of the functioning of the Internet and computer systems.

It may seem scary at the outset, but it is a sacrifice that we have to make in order to stay ‘relevant’ today. Users, nowadays, are asked to ‘give themselves up’ to be a part of the modern world – but that does not mean that they are completely exposed. Governments and private companies still believe in the notion of ‘privacy’, and as the world gets increasingly connected, it is well possible that privacy laws will be enforced, more strictly. Companies like Google will have to operate within these laws, which will, in turn, cause a dramatic shift in the way we behave online. No matter how big a company grows, it cannot simply ‘rule’ the world – for today, we live in a society built on ‘hierarchy’, one which always has someone ‘above’ the other!

Author : Srivats Lakshman

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