In 2008 and 2009 I spent one month – the month of March – avoiding all Google products. I thought about this exercise as “ an experiment in choice.” http://marchawayfromgoogle.wordpress.com/2008/02/23/hello-world/
Why? I had a variety of reasons:
- Antitrust. Regulators in Europe and the United States were investigating (and continue to investigate) if Google had violated antitrust laws. Google and its defenders responded with a slogan: “On the Internet, competition is one click away.” I wondered how true this slogan was; and, more to the point, if switching to a competitor was as easy as one click on my keyboard.
- Addiction. Scholars and science writers are increasingly concerned that we are “addicted” to our devices, our apps, and our lives on the screen. This strikes me (and many others) as an odd use of a clinical term – addiction. What does it mean to be addicted to a search engine? Is it as hard to quit “googling” as it is to quit, say, shooting up heroin?
- Language. I began to get annoyed that my colleagues and friends were using “Google” as a verb, and that web users had come to think of “search” and “google” as synonymous. These struck me as two important facets of discursive life in the 21st century, and it seemed just as true in this case as any other that it is worth reflecting on the words and language we choose—choose—to use.
- Competition. Following on the last point, there are many other search engines and application providers out there. For many of us, using Google is familiar and easy. But what else is out there? Why should I think that Google’s search results (or maps, or images, etc.) are better than anyone else’s? See for example http://www.theopensite.com/marketing-business-promotion/alternative-search-engines-to-google/ and http://www.brighthub.com/internet/google/articles/123719.aspx
Throughout March 2008 and 2009, I kept “field notes” and reported on what I experienced and learned on a blog, which I called “March Away from Google.” Here are some things that I learned:
- Switching to Google’s competitors is not always easy. Google is embedded in a variety of application, system, and even hardware defaults.
- Even if I can make a choice on my own to stop using Google products, other people like to use them: collaborators post things on Google docs, friends make customized Google maps, institutions use Google customized search, etc. One lesson here is that an individual is not an island: there are cases when other people make choices for me, or constrain the range of choices I can make.
- Many of the questions raised in my whimsical little experiment have deep academic and personal significance. See my blog entry from March 1, 2009 for a longer recap of the issues.
I had toyed with the idea of Marching Away from Google again in March 2013, but the beginning of the month came and went. And, to be honest, it seemed like too much work to document getting Google out of my life again: I’ve got ongoing projects that use Google docs and Google maps, and the dimensions of antitrust, addiction, and language that motivated me in 2008 and 2009 had only gotten richer and more complex.
So even though I don’t quite have it in me to quit Google for the month, I absolutely believe that the topic continues to have deep relevance. As such, it seems like an ideal way to kick off a new discussion on this blog, which is an occasional blog of the Program in Science & Technology Studies, a new program in the College of Arts & Letters at the Stevens Institute of Technology. I have invited my colleagues to weigh in on what I see as the leading concepts of this exercise – Antitrust regulation, addiction, and language – and, if they dare, to spend at least a little bit of March marching away from Google.
Please watch this space for their comments; and please, post comments of your own!
Director, Program in Science & Technology Studies
College of Arts & Letters