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Is Google polluting the Internet?

(Michaela Rehle/Reuters)

For generations, monks and librarians categorized and indexed the world's knowledge. Rarely did laypeople consider the ramifications of how those esteemed academics ordered the information.

And then Google burst onto the scene. Based on academic indexing, the search engine brought referencing out of the library and into everyone's home.

The system and its many merits and subsequent many flaws have been debated since its inception. But now, Micah White from the Guardian has put forth a rather apocalyptic argument, saying Google's indexing system might lead to our collective knowledge downfall.

He says that the search engine is no longer a search engine but the most powerful "commercializing force on the Internet" and degrades knowledge while celebrating consumerism.

The omnipresence of internet advertising constrains the horizon of our thought. Seneca's exhortations to live a frugal life are surrounded by commercials for eco-holidays. The parables of Jesus are mere fodder for selling bamboo flooring. The juxtaposition of advertisements with wisdom neutralises the latter. The prevalence of commercial messages traps us in the marketplace. ... Advertising has become the distorting frame through which we view the world.

Google dominates more arenas than just our friendly neighborhood search engine. Google has quickly moved into new revenue streams far afield of their indexing origins. It's battling to become the dominant TV provider. Its phone platform just surpassed the iPhone. It markets YouTube, Web browsers, e-mail services.

It is a major corporation, and like any major corporation, Google is not in the business of doing the good for all mankind. It's in the business of doing business.

However, White's argument seems to give Google slightly too much credit (And that's coming from someone who only half-jokingly thinks the next war will be fought out between armies of Apple fans and Google fans).

Google's search engine is losing ground to other search options, particularly friends' suggestions. People still do rely on off-line information outside the purview of Google. And blaming advertising for the destruction of our collective wisdom seems to be more of Mike Judge prank than an actual possible future to fear.

Still it's an interesting debate. Is Google the bringer of stupidity that White thinks it is?

By Melissa Bell  | November 2, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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