Posts Tagged ‘books’

  • Google Books – evil or not: Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    Something relating to print reverberated in the past week. It was an ABC doco on Google’s attempts to digitize every book in the world. What began as a noble endeavour to enable universal access to humankind’s entire storehouse of knowledge has descended into litigation and castigation for copyright breaches.

    Called ‘Google and the World Brain’ this documentary by British director Ben Lewis invokes the works of famed Sci-Fi visionary HG Wells, who in the 1930s advocated such a ‘World Brain’ saying: “Without a World Encyclopaedia to hold men’s minds together in something like a common interpretation of reality, there is no hope whatever of anything but an accidental and transitory alleviation of any of our world troubles,” adding, in this pre-computer era: “a sort of mental clearing house for the mind, a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared.”

     While HG (as in Wells, not Roy &), comes across as a nice old-school socialist duffer, like all extreme lefties, his vision tends to depend on total conformity – getting rid of anyone who won’t toe the socialist line; Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot took this to extremes. For most of his life, HG was also stridently anti-semitic; his advocating for the abolishment of Judaism was only tempered by a deathbed recantation in a holocaust-influenced apology to Chaim Weitzman.

    Wells’ World Brain idea was certainly complicit with his vision for a global society or, as has been said: “Inside every Socialist is a Totalitarian screaming to get out.” Wells even coined the term ‘New World Order’ – but what of Goggle’s intent?

     Rapine of the libraries?

    Scanning and digitizing all the world’s books means access to libraries. Some of these books are very valuable and need special handling, or the use of facsimile copies. Starting around 2002, Google made deals with major libraries around the world to scan out-of-copyright books. They patented new book scanning technology that enable the books to be scanned part open; not flat which can damage the binding. The only problem was; they scanned copyright books as well.

    In 2005, the US Author’s Guild sued Google for ‘massive copyright infringement.’ Later suits came from publishers in France, Germany and China. Settlements were agreed but Google cited ‘fair use’ of books, and the fact they were undertaking a useful service to humanity, as a defense. As the lawsuits continue, the maker of the documentary sheds a more commercial light on the project:

    “I didn’t think this was an organization that was totally suspicious when I started out. I thought, ‘These people are immensely imaginative. They come up with these remarkable new inventions – like a search engine that really works. And, of course, they subscribe to the ideology of the Internet: free culture and free information. But, by the time I’d finished the film I decided that [along with] any belief they had in that system, they’d also worked out that there was a way to make $150 billion. To ruthlessly exploit new-market economic areas that other people hadn’t spotted, and then try and dominate them in a monopolistic way. As you walk through the door there, it’s almost like you can feel the temperature change.”

     Thirty million scanned books later, the project has slowed as Google encounters opposition that has been articulated even by country Presidents such as Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s former chief Sarkozy. Google’s slogan ‘don’t be evil’ is under the microscope as its intent appears that it might be: ignore copyright; rip off authors; use the meta-data gleaned from people’s book searches to invade their privacy, track and profile them and sell this information to the highest bidders.

    A book is not a series of tweets

    Ben Lewis’ excellently-made documentary (which you can download or buy here tends to draw this conclusion as it was repeatedly stymied for access to Google executives and even when granted, strict rules on what questions could be asked were imposed, such as ‘we can’t talk about books, only search.’

    Phoo-ey! Even the competency of the Google Book project was called into question, with miss-scanned pages and the laughable categorizing of Walt Whitman’s masterpiece ‘Leaves of Grass’ under ‘Gardening!’

    Quote of the show goes to Jaron Lanier, author of ‘Who Owns the Future’ and ‘You are Not a Gadget.’ Lanier was a computer and internet wunderkind, virtually inventing virtual reality and working at Atari but he is the voice-in-the-wilderness warning of the perils in allowing too few to know too much. The one of his I really liked and laughed out loud at was: “A book is not a series of tweets.”

    Therein lays the essence. Google is trying to do something new with a medium that is already perfect. You can make a raw diamond better by cutting it but once cut, it should be at its apogee…a perfect, never-to-be-sullied representation of sheer beauty and art. What makes books so perfect as a medium to convey thoughts, ideas, knowledge, rants, lies, damn lies and statistics is this:

    Books are deliciously anarchic and disgracefully evasive, so much so that many can only be tracked by treasure hunt. They are a disgusting alphabet-soup of dire individualism. Once the cover is open, you are immersed in the machinations of the author who will cause a multiplicity of synapse reactions in your brain, turn your stomach, palpitate your heart and cause you to orgasm if you are lucky. They are the expressions of individuals, not some form of mythical ‘collective wisdom’ – belief in which is the pernicious road to misery, totalitarianism, mediocrity and shame. There exists shared wisdom, not collective wisdom. A camel is a horse designed by collective wisdom. Collectivism = Marxism.

    Google does such great Search, AdWords, free Email and Browser – why has the company gone off the rails on the Book project? Answer, because books are more powerful, a beast that will never be tamed so long as a man or woman’s reach exceeds his or her grasp, (‘…or what’s a heaven for?’ – Robert Browning.)

    Give me books: paper, cloth, leather, inky and fibre ones. Dirty, smelly, outrageous, literate and badly written, shelf-worn, digitally remastered, Dymock-pocked, old and new, sordid and sacred……… or give me death.