We Have Seen the Enemy – and Its Name Is Google

Today’s Prospect Magazine has an impassioned (though at times conflicted) assessment of Google by Jonathan Rée as the tool of American imperialism, which must be resisted on principle.

The author marvels over the Google Books engine – and its ability to help him browse through Hazlitt, in the NYPL collection. Then he stops himself:

Thank God for Google, I said to myself. But I nearly choked on the words: in the company I keep, praising Google would be on a par with shopping at Tesco, eating in McDonald’s or speaking up for the political astuteness of George W Bush. Had I forgotten that Google is only the latest manifestation of American avarice, grown fat on the proceeds of advertising and now bent on world domination?

Jean-Noël Jeanneney, President of the Bibliothèque Nationale has a long record as a servant of the French state—chief executive of Radio-France, head of the Commission for the Bicentennial of the Revolution, and junior minister for foreign trade—but he also holds intellectual culture in high esteem, especially if it is French. Culture, he avers in a new book, Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge (University of Chicago Press)See his earlier thinking, too., is a sanctuary of wisdom, knowledge and refinement, but it is also a delicate creature that needs the apparatus of the state to protect it from the hordes of philistines, anarchists and free-marketeers who see cultural works as “commodities” rather than sacred objects. Google, as far as Jeanneney is concerned, is the latest manifestation of the threat, and the most sinister the world has ever seen.

As the Press’s own blog puts it:

Jean-Noel Jeanneney’s Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge is a startlingly incisive diatribe against the Google Library Project—Google’s initiative to digitize and electronically distribute the holdings of several of the world’s major libraries. Yet, as several recent reviews have noted, standing in the way of Google’s multi-billion dollar enterprise is not likely to make you popular—or rich. Writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer Carlin Romano praises Jeanneney’s subversive project remarking that Jeanneney provides “a take on world Googlization that you’re not likely to get from your broker.” And indeed David Ng writing for Forbes magazine seems to agree when he writes:

Every conversation needs at least two voices. This slim volume…provides a crucial dissenting opinion in a world where the mere mention of Google (or, rather Google’s money) can act as a conversation ender. The Google war chest has all but secured dominance over smaller library efforts, like the author’s own project to digitize the French National collection. History judges societies by how they treat their most disadvantaged members. This book asks only that the Google economy be held to the same standard.

They conclude with words aimed at every self-respecting civil lawyer:

If Google Book Search is not halted in its tracks, Jeanneney warns, intellectual life as the French have always known it is doomed. French lawyers will abandon their law libraries, and allow Google to bamboozle them with formulations taken not from the European legal tradition but from Anglo-Saxon common law.

The Iron Cage

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