The Church of Google?

Google was incorporated in September 1998, a collaboration between Larry Page and Sergey Brin, helped out with $100K of venture capital. Google a play on googol, the world for the number 10 raised to the hundredth power… showing their ambition of organizing masses of information…

According to Nicholas Carr, the way in which Google is organized reflect Taylorist management principles, and the way its products effect us is not necessarily positive!

This is my summary of chapter eight of The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we read, think and remember, by Nicholas Carr.

Google = Taylorism applied to information work

Taylor’s principles of scientific management helped shape the organisational form of the industrial revolution. Probably the best known example of applied Taylorism lies in the Ford motor plants in North America, in which turning workers into automatons resulted in extremely efficient production.

In 1993 Neil Postman outlined six assumptions of Taylorism:

  1. That the primary, if not the only goal of human labour and thought is efficiency
  2. The technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgement
  3. That in fact human judgement cannot be trusted because it is plagued by laxity,ambiguity and unnecessary complexity
  4. That what cannot be measured does not exist or is of no value
  5. That subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking.
  6. That the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts…

What Ford did for physical manufacturing plants, Google is doing for the mind, applying Taylor’s principles to knowledge work.

According to Carr, we find these principles in many aspects of Google’s operations:

  • Google is obsessed with testing. Subjective aesthetic judgements have no place in its software design
  • The way it ranks web pages…. Web pages are like citations… the value of any page could be gauged by the links coming into it. AND an incoming link from a page which itself has more links pointing to it is more valuable than a page with fewer links pointing to it. Larry Page realiszd early on that the relative value of any web page could be evaluated by a mathematical analysis of two factors: the number of incoming links to the page attracted and the authority of the sites that were the sources of those links.
  • The company’s ads policy: placement is determined by the bid but also the frequency with which people click on them.

How Google effects us…

Google is quite literally in the business of distraction. Google’s profits are directly proportionate to people’s informational intake – the more links that are clicked, the higher the profits. The last thing Google wants is concentrated reading. It actually skimming and breaks in concentration

Then there is the fact that Google’s control of data means, to some extent, it has control over what we see, over our intellectual lives!

Carr also argues that Googles’ book digitization programme isn’t necessarily beneficial… To make a book available online is to dismember it. Fragment it.

When carried into the realm of the intellect, the industrial ideal of efficiency poses, as Hawthorne understood, a threat to meditative thought. The ability of a well rounded mind requires reflection, not just the ability to find information quickly.

We are now dependent on machines to filter information, it use to be human decision and time…. Out of a million books, only a handful would make it through the generations… Emerson again.

Everything that human beings are doing to make it easier to operate computer networks is at the same time, but for different reasons, making it easier for computer networks to operate human beings.’

For my summary of previous chapters please click here. To purchase the book (it’s a cracking read!) please click below!

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