The Google Paradox

I am thinking of calling my next book The Google Paradox. It will be a self-fulfilling prophesy about Google, authors and the book business. The Google Paradox will argue that the more Google does to kill the traditional publishing industry with the free online content from its search engine, the more books will get written about the central role of Google in our new digital economy.

The idea of The Google Paradox occurred to me this week while reading two new books printed on paper by conventional publishers about Google. Both have been written by New York City academicians and both place Google at the heart of the great cultural and commercial transformation being realized by digital technology.

The first, What Would Google Do? by the New York Graduate School of Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis, is a hagiography of Google’s business practices. It suggests that Google is the only company that knows how to “survive and prosper in the internet age.” Jarvis argues that Google’s commitment to openness and to the network principle, its recognition of the collaborative and conversational nature of the new economy and its ability to always putting the customer first makes the Silicon Valley technology leviathan the “model” for all other companies in all other industries. It’s not surprising that Jarvis, who is also an evangelical blogger, has chosen such an ecumenical sounding title for his Google worshipping book. He is a digital Jesuit and What Would Google Do? has been written as a conversional self-help manual for analogue executives in commerce, politics, education, book publishing and “even religion” who want to learn how to think like Google so they can survive and prosper in the new media economy.

The second book, Elsewhere USA: How We Got From The Company Man, Family Dinners And The Affluent Society To The Home Office, Blackberry Moms, And Economic Anxiety is much more ambiguous in its affection for the achievements of Google. Written by Dalton Conley, the Dean of Social Sciences at New York University, it seeks to understand why all the connectness of the new information economy is making us all so anxious and unhappy (this anxiousness, of course, is really caused by new media evangelists like Jeff Jarvis relentlessly preaching to us that we need to mimic Google if we are to survive in the digital age). Like Jarvis, Conley finds the “center” of the BlackBerry and iPhone economy at the Googleplex, Google’s iconic office park headquarters in Mountain View, California. But rather than Jarvis’ breathless enthusiasm for all things Google, Conley describes a “total company” culture where Google employees eat, sleep, groom themselves, socialize and recreate on the Google campus. So where Jarvis finds democratization, Conley finds the seeds of totalitarianism. Perhaps they are the same thing.

The irony of Elsewhere USA and What Would Google Do? is that both books rely on the five hundred year-old technology of Johannes Gutenberg’s moveable type to explain the wrenching digital transformation of the 21st century. These are both printed books about the death of the printed book. That is The Google Paradox. And it will be published some time next year, so long as I can find a traditional publisher sufficiently myopic to pay me to write a 65,000 word obituary notice for their own business.