It seems that the world of technology is much like the world of politics and religion -- oh yes, we are going down that road -- you pick your side and you stick to it. While it is great to be decisive in what you believe in, it can also be very limiting. It creates a sense of black and white, ignoring the myriad shades of grey that undeniably exist. It stunts the palate and narrows the mind. This is the effect that Google has had on the world, or the world of technology at least. Just as many people will unquestioning accept what is proffered by their religious text of preference, too many people fail to look outside of what Google has to offer.
It seems that Google is a god to many people, and this is worrying. My colleague Joe Wilcox has written extensively about the importance of writing for one's audience rather than for Google. Refusing to tailor one's content to meet the demands of Google's ever-changing algorithms may mean fewer hits, but it will almost invariably mean higher quality content and a more enjoyable, readable and unique experience for readers. And at the end of the day, that is what matters. Google is not my god. I'm an atheist -- and I'm extremely glad to be.
Like religion, Google is dangerous. It creates a homogenous online world in which writers are scared to stand out from the crowd for fear of being smited by their idol. Yes, reaching an audience is important, but it needs to be done on the terms of the writer and the reader, not sanitized by Google's filters. Google stifles and stultifies. If the drive behind writing is to achieve nothing more than hits -- rather than sharing ideas, conveying information -- Google is in control. We're in a world of techno Stepford wives.
Google also comes with a payload -- your penance, if you will. If you want to use all of these powerful online tools that have been created -- Hangouts, search, Gmail, Drive, etc -- then you'd better be willing to pay the price. The collection plate that is passed around at the church of Google is not looking for money (at least not just money), but a piece of you. Google wants your soul, and countless millions of sheep are happy to oblige. Just as a church demands your unwavering, unquestioning faith and devotion, so Google demands your data, your privacy. Google wants you.
There has been a steady creep further and further into the lives of more and more people. To the technology-minded it is well-known that Android is Google, Chromebook is Google, Chrome is Google, but for the average person it is just not something that is thought about -- these are just useful tools. Google now has more ways to monitor the lives and daily activities of more people than ever before, more ways to make money from their day to day activities -- and it goes unquestioned. For most, like their religion, Google is the god that can do no wrong. No more privacy you say? That's just an unfortunate side-effect of the way things have to be -- just like the free will afforded to people by their deity has the unfortunate side-effect of allowing murders and wars to take place.
But not everything about Google is bad -- I'm not suggesting that it should be shunned entirely. I started this article likening the company to a god that people prostrate themselves before, and this bowing and scraping is something I refuse to be a part of. That's not to say I shun Google entirely. Returning to the world of religion, I fall firmly in the atheist camp. The notion of a deity is, to me, absurd. But this does not mean that I am entirely dismissive of the teachings of various religions. I can see that Christianity, Buddhism and other religious ways of thinking make some sense -- but I don't need the doctrine of a book to tell me not to kill someone, to be nice to other people, and generally be a decent human being. This is something I am perfectly capable of doing for myself without the need for the threat of punishment or the promise of reward.
I freely admit to being an Android user, and a liker of Chromebooks. But I can see the flaws. "Blind acceptance is a sign of stupid fools who stand in line", drawled John Lydon in the Sex Pistol's song EMI, and he had a point. We have become so used to the presence of Google that what it does is largely blindly accepted by the masses, and this is a sad state of affairs.
The philosophies of different religions can teach us all something -- even if it only strengthens a negative belief. They can be seen as a means to an end, and this is one way in which Google can be viewed. It is not the be all and end all, it is part of a much, much bigger picture. There are a lot of Google services that I do use. Google's search has become so ingrained, it's not even something I think about -- I've been brainwashed into believing it's just the way things are. Gmail is great, but there are countless alternatives out there that are just as good, if not better.
I don't bow to Google any more than I bow to a god. But that's not to say I cannot see some value in the ideas and tools associated with both. What I advocate is questioning; Google should be questioned just as religion should be questioned. Remember that you are the one with the power. You control your life -- both in the real world and online. Look for alternatives. Google may end up being the best option for you, but don't just assume it to be the case because everyone else says so. Make the web your own, make technology your own. Own your technological life.
This article first appeared on BetaNews.