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  • Writer Login


    God, Google and Mr. Jefferson

    by | 4 | Dec 4, 2009

    Rosetta_stoneEveryday now a new story pops up that leads one to believe that Google plans to be just everywhere. Amazingly, many of these stories involve Google being places nobody knew existed. Once Google announced plans to go there, these previously unknown and unperceived places, it became obvious why being there is so important and others rush to get there as well.

    Take the whole “world library” thing. It is said this beast, a beast no one had ever conceived of prior to Google coming along, was in the back of the founders’ eye all along. Now Google has its “Wave” thing going. The Wave allows groups of people, social groups, business groups, professional groups, doesn’t matter, to set up special little interactive collaboration spaces that allow the members to remotely brainstorm, inform, advocate, dictate, contemplate and damn near everything else you can collectively do with a human brain. Wow! Yet another thing of all encompassing importance nobody ever knew we needed.

    These things are coming so thick and fast I am beginning to believe Google is to human cerebral interaction as 3M is to office and personal organization. It is just one damn great idea nobody ever thought of before following another.

    The latest, at least the latest one I have heard about, is Google’s drive to create a living “Rosetta Stone.” Whether the living Rosetta Stone was also a founding goal, as the library is alleged to be, or just something that has come along lately, I cannot say. Now that it is partially here, I don’t suppose the date of its conception much matters. That it is partially up and running, and in more primitive forms has been for some time, is the big thing. That Google intends to keep refining it so that language becomes an increasingly transparent and meaningless barrier to communication is an even bigger thing.

    That intention to keep plowing ahead is a bigger thing because unlike me, and most people, when Google says it is going to dream the big dream and make it real, more often than not, it does.

    I believe there have been translator engines located on search engines since the search engine idea was first deployed. That deployment pre-dates Google but, still, Google seems to understand that its control of the information portal depends upon a never ending series of new and easier ways to access information and opinion from anywhere and from anyone.

    Google seeks to take us, in far more profound ways than mere transparency of language, back to the days of Babel, days when, according to Biblical tradition, everyone spoke the same language. Google’s mission appears to be nothing less than the removal of all barriers between information, opinion, data, etc. and anyone who wants access to it. Google wants to take the Jeffersonian ideal of free speech and free expression and free press to a whole other level. Google doesn’t just seek to remove governmental barriers to these things, Google wants to eliminate the barriers of both time and space that form non-governmental barriers as well.

    As a notion, this is almost incomprehensible. As a fully formed idea it is at once both thrilling and frightening.  As a partially functioning reality, just as the Tower of Babel stirred God’s passions, Google’s Rosetta Stone will stir the darker as well as the finer passions of men.

    To accomplish its mission Google will either have to travel past cultural barriers using a different dimensional channel, something they have managed to date, or bash down these barriers. Google has managed so far by quietly doing things nobody ever considered or, if they considered them, believed them to be impossible. Though simple and effective, I don’t believe this “under the radar” approach will work for much longer.

    All cultural norms, all governments, all polities of every stripe, all defined groups, are, to a very important degree, dependent upon the control of information and opinion that flows to and among their members. Google’s plans are in direct opposition to this control.

    Google finds itself in a sort of race. It is a race to become so integral to human existence it, or its successor(s), becomes essential to almost everyone on Earth before those whose control over religious opinion, cultural bias, legal structure and who knows what all strike back at it.

    Of course, Google, though real enough, is really a metaphor for the transparency available from the net. If it isn’t Google that does this and other such things, it will be someone else. So, the real question is, can Google, or one or more of the other rabbits in this race, become so ubiquitously integral to life, modern life, tribal life, medieval life and every other culturally identifiable form of life on the planet, before it is caught by the “dogs” of cultural exclusion, cultural exceptionalism, religious prejudice and all the other dogs that seek to limit human collaboration and freedom.

    Cultural barriers are comfortable. We all seek security behind those walls. Those comforting walls are precisely what Google will have to penetrate or dismantle. There will not be one of us, no matter how dedicated to free thought and open, unrestricted communication, who will not have conflicting feelings about this. It is upon those conflicted feelings that the opponents of free thought, expression, speech and communication will base their resistance. Our fears and our discomfort will be the weapons used against Google and everybody else who attempts to take the world this next step beyond Mr. Jefferson’s dream.

    This journey, to the next place beyond Jefferson, will be the defining struggle of the next several generations. Just as Mr. Jefferson’s beliefs, to a greater or lesser degree, defined every struggle from the United States’ Revolution to the present, Google’s rapid assault upon the limitations time and space places upon Mr. Jefferson’s essential freedoms will define the struggles to come. Indeed, this journey has already begun.

    ###
    Mike Copeland

    Mike Copeland

    I am old enough to know better. I have a B. A. from Birmingham Southern College and a Master’s in City Planning from Georgia Tech. I have worked in SC State government for over a decade leaving as the Deputy Executive Director of the State Budget and Control Board, the state’s administrative agency. I have owned the Fontaine Company since 1984 and am the managing member of viscerality.com.llc a management, marketing and consulting company.

    I am the author of several novels, some of which you may buy and read if you are of a mind to do so.

     

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    • Heavy stuff, for a Saturday morning before coffee. Your taking Google vs. linguistic differences as a metaphor recalls a 1992 book, Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World. Or, “How the world seems to be falling apart and coming together at the same time.” It was by a Rutgers professor whose books all attempt to update Jefferson on various fronts. That book didn’t get the attention it deserved. You too could develop your ideas here into a book. But it’s hard to know where we should stand in this struggle. Even God Himself seems to be on both sides at once, a universalizing All who presents Himself only in the particular, the tribal, and the untranslatable (taking the fun out of fundamentalism). Back to my coffee.

    • One stands in awe how completely relevant the ideas of Thomas Jefferson remain. As the ideas he espoused are at the heart of humanity and our ability to pursue happiness, I suppose, as long as there are humans, they will always be relevant.

    • Jim Smith

      Mike, I’m a little rusty on my Jefferson, but didn’t his thinking seem more at home in a time when you could mentally chew over one of the dialogues of Plato while you plowed the back forty, having stopped to have a good smoke and a side of ham at lunchtime? Not that Jefferson’s ideals don’t transcend the man and his time, but free speech was in theory, well considered and deliberate speech rather than twitters (or is it tweets? damn, I can never recall) raining through cyberspace like a cosmic firestorm. Not that all speech was civil or reasonable back in the 18th century.

      I’m sure that the Rosetta Stone and the world library will come to pass, while I work on my Spanish at the Mac drive thru and wait for the local branch to open so I can get a card.

      Don’t mind me -- I thoroughly enjoy your postings and find your writing brilliant.

    • Jim Smith,

      If by “at home” you mean where Jefferson felt most comfortable, I am not sure such a place ever existed. He was, however, very effective in a variety of different environments. He was effective in European diplomacy, colonial governments, Congress, and the presidency, but if one believes what he wrote then he was never comfortable in any of them.

      Perhaps the restlessness of his mind was the element that allowed him to contemplate boundless, timeless issues and is what makes him relevant today and will make him relevant for many tomorrows to come.

      As to “tweets” and twitters,” that is a fair criticism as far as it goes but it ignores forums like this one where there is an almost unlimited ability to discuss and debate. The internet and its various outlets provide access to propounders and readers to carry on at great length. I suspect Jefferson would have loved it.

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