[NetBehaviour] NYT: (Copyright) "Is Google like Gas or Like Steel?" Neither, it is like Nernst's Third Law of Thermodynamics (or the Nicene Creed.

michael gurstein gurstein at gmail.com
Fri Jan 11 17:27:00 CET 2013

Hi Rob,

-----Original Message-----
From: netbehaviour-bounces at netbehaviour.org [mailto:netbehaviour-bounces at netbehaviour.org] On Behalf Of Rob Myers
Sent: Friday, January 11, 2013 7:03 AM
To: netbehaviour at netbehaviour.org
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] NYT: (Copyright) "Is Google like Gas or Like Steel?" Neither, it is like Nernst's Third Law of Thermodynamics (or the Nicene Creed.

On Sun, 6 Jan 2013 10:05:24 -0800, michael gurstein wrote:
> My intention with the blogpost was to shift the discussion concerning 
> Google/Facebook etc. away from "free speech" i.e. what people are able 
> to say, to "free thought" i.e. what people are able to think...
> Google
> with some 90% of the global search activity can, through its 
> algorithms "unperson" someone or an idea etc. (for example by dropping 
> their reference down several pages in the search ranking, or 
> "disappearing" something from the search engine completely…

Computation is certainly a way of thinking, and Google search is both ontology and epistemology.
[MG>] yes...

In order for us to become aware of this, and to make its objects into objects of our own thought we must communicate with its thinker. 
Therefore search involves, and maybe even is, communication.
[MG>] yes, but communication is necessarily interactive and if the party on the other side is purely passive the communication stops before it gets really interesting/revealing

Google's erasures are certainly political but if communicating with Google isn't protected speech then many more censorious and anti-free-thought interests will be able to erase links from Google's search index.
[MG>] true, the intent of the post was to move beyond the simple "free speech" discussion, which is already reasonably well positioned (if not yet fully undestood by the US courts) to something, perhaps more subtle and to my mind even more dangerous because of its subtlety and difficulty of apprehension...

I agree it's important to not just think about Google in the limited terms of American law, and that search engines are tools for thought. 
After Google has successfully defended search as protected speech is an ideal time to ask what else search is. But the thought that search enables or chills is a result of communication. It is, to borrow a word from another current thread on NetBehaviour, "embodied". Or *mediated*.
[MG>] yes, but see above...

> _q.v. In the George Orwell book Nineteen Eighty-Four, an Unperson is 
> someone who has been vaporized. Vaporization is when a person is 
> murdered by being turned into vapors. Not only has an unperson been 
> killed; they have also been erased from society, the present, the 
> universe, and existence. Such a person would be taken out of books, 
> photographs, and articles so that no trace of them is found in the 
> present anywhere - no record of them would be found. The point of this 
> was that such a person would be gone from all citizens' memories, even 
> friends and family. There is no Newspeak word for what happened to 
> unpeople, therefore it is thoughtcrime to say an unperson's name or 
> think of unpeople. This is like the Stalinist Soviet Party erasing 
> people from photographs after death; this is an example of "real"
> unpeople._
> http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unperson

Stephen Pinker's "The Language Instinct" contains a section on creolization of language that affected my thinking on the potential real-world effectiveness of Newspeak. And the history of politically correct language (where words are appropriated by reaction and progress whatever the intent of their original users) shows that language itself is not sufficient to determine what people can express.
[MG>] interesting although I'm not sure I fully understand this point...

I think there's something to Google and Facebook as media for public statements, as regulators what one can and cannot say in public, and therefore what one can and cannot know and base one's thought and actions on. But the example of erasing people from photographs illustrates that the *way* they affect thought is by mediating communication
[MG>] yes, but see above...

I must read "Deep Search: The Politics of Search beyond Google"...
[MG>] I guess me too 



- Rob.

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