I still remember how excited I was in 2012 to learn that Google, my favorite company in the universe, was coming to KC.
We were to be the national Beta site for Google’s new fiber network. I promptly signed up to join the local “fiberhood” and waited eagerly for the little rabbit truck to show up at my door.
Now, just five years after consummating our relationship, I learn that my affection was unrequited. Google doesn’t love me, doesn’t even like me. As is becoming more and more obvious, she rather thinks me a cretin.
The dalliance began in December 2000. I was doing a radio interview for my first published novel, a futuristic political thriller called 2006: The Chautauqua Rising, and the host seemed to know more about me than I knew about me. When I asked how he knew so much, he said he “Googled” me.
“Googled?” said I. He explained. I checked Google out and fell promptly in love. That introduction changed my life, certainly my career. I now had more informational power at my fingertips than the whole of The New York Times’ newsroom had just 10 years prior, and I put it to use.
My first non-fiction book followed two years later. The subject was TWA Flight 800, the 747 that blew up inexplicably off the coast of Long Island in July 1996.
The New York Times interviewed just one eyewitness. In the pre-Google era, I would have had to build my account around the reporting of The Times , the “paper of record.” Thanks to Google, I was able to find and read not only the 750 FBI eyewitness statements, but also the NTSB report, the FAA report, the radar data, a whole cache of CIA internal documents, and much more.
Times star journalist Tom Friedman once described the Internet as “an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information.” Friedman insisted that information required the “kind of filtering” The Times historically provided.
Sorry, Tom, but Google showed me otherwise. I have since written 10 more books, several on subjects The Times has “filtered” out of the consciousness of its readers and right down the memory hole. There is truth to the saying that the difference between the old Soviet Pravda and The Times is that Pravda’s readers knew they were being lied to.
The first kink in my relationship with Google came with a 2015 article headlined, “Google Fiber coming to low-income housing for free.”
I winced when I read it. When cable first came to Kansas City about 1980, I was director of management for the KC Housing Authority—a youthful indiscretion. The cable people needed my permission to wire the buildings. I told them, “Many of these people don’t pay their rent. Why do you think they’ll pay for cable?”
“Simple,” the one fellow said. “If they don’t pay, we turn it off.” He added, “People don’t value what they don’t pay for.” Google never got that message. Google brass were too busy signaling their virtue to care about long-term consequences, especially since they could pass the cost of “free” service on to paying customers like me.
On the information front, the more closely I followed Google, the more disenchanted I became. As part of my job, I track Kansas and Missouri news. To get to either, I have to go through Google’s national news feed. For anyone in the bi-state area who voted Republican in 2016—about 60 percent of us—the news selection is a horror show. If a meteor wiped out half of Kansas, Google might just lead with a catty story about the shoes Melania wore to the disaster site.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin set the tone by calling the election of Donald Trump "deeply offensive." None of his fellow executives on stage disagreed. Nor did anyone of the hundreds in the audience.
Google is that bad, and there is no blaming the algorithms. This became evident with the recent leak of a video recorded at an “all hands” meeting at Google headquarters the unhappy Friday after the 2016 election.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin set the tone by calling the election of Donald Trump “deeply offensive.”None of his fellow executives on stage disagreed. Nor did anyone of the hundreds in the audience. They spoke scarily as one—“we believe this, we think that.”
At the urging of CFO Ruth Porat, a self-professed Hillary supporter, the Googlers gave each other hugs to ease their fears and affirm their commitment to Google values. From what I could gather, Google values mostly have to do with “tolerance,” a word that was used often and meaninglessly.
Some months later, employee James Damore learned just how meaningless when he circulated a carefully reasoned memo criticizing the company’s in-your-face race and gender-based hiring practices.
“First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves,” said CEO Sundar Pichai— who then promptly fired Damore for“advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”
As was evident in the meeting, Googlers hope to use Google “tools” to spread Google values around the globe, starting with those pockets in America seemingly immune to Google’s soulless version of progress. Said Brin ruefully, “So many people don’t share many of the values we have.”
Given local voting patterns, I now wonder if Google chose Kansas City as beta site because of our apparent need for Google-style re-education.
The Googlers certainly thought we needed enlightening. One employee traced the 2016 election loss to “organized campaigns of disinformation aimed at low-information voters.” To him, that explained everything.
True to form in this Orwellian world, the fellow got everything backwards. Thanks to Google and other social-media platforms, people like me have been able to evade the media’s ideological filter and escape what Damore called Google’s “politically correct monoculture.”
The low-information voters, truth be told, were the children hugging each other in the Google audience. Trapped in an “ideological echo chamber,” they wept upon learning not everyone shared their Googley values.
Google, I have decided, is unworthy of my love. Spectrum, are you listening? If so, are you any different?