As we cede control of public functions to private entities we may gain some functionality or efficiency but we often loose control of other more critical, less commercial aspects of our lives.
For example, as we cede control of money, traditionally a public function, to the likes of PayPal or Bank of America in the form of internet or credit card payments we run the risk of them unilaterally and arbitrarily removing access to this form of exchange, as in the case of Wikileaks. As commercial entities, they are not held to the same standards as a government of due process and can behave without much criticism or oversite, limiting access to given individuals to a critical public function at a whim.
But we run the risk of not just losing control over public functions but of language as well. In the novel 1984, George Orwell articulated the idea that the control of language was a way to control not just actions but thoughts. I.E. The loss of language can lead to a loss of freedom.
I work, study and breath in a very small corner of the internet, Google Places. In that corner, I interact with Google in all of their glory and weirdness.
In Google Places, Google feels a need to control language. Perhaps that is a good thing, limiting use of drug and sex terms in a public directory. But it requires any business that is using those terms to go to Google and request permission to use them. A very strange relationship for sure. And a slippery walk down the slope of language control indeed.
But even stranger has been a recent “discovery” that Google is intervening, humanly or algorithmically, to prevent the use of some non controversial terms in the forums. Forums, unlike Places pages, are meant for “open” discussion.
The phrase that they are deleting? World Trade Center. That’s right, a word that is embedded not just in our language but in our psyche is being actively deleted when used in the forums. Their handling of the phrase is inconsistent, allowing it sometimes and deleting it on others. But delete they have. And on more than one occasion.
Google is a company that proclaims from the height of the highest newspaper hill that they are the essence of openness …. open systems, open technology, open source, open information. They use words like “transparency” and phrases like “Open will win” as mantras.
Yet for whatever reason, they can not abide by the the words “World Trade Center” being used in posts in the Places forums and see fit to act as arbiters of our language… very weird indeed.