I haven't written a book report since 6th grade, and this isn't really one, but having finally gotten around to reading Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Al Gore's The Assault On Reason, I find myself trying to reason my way through some signals that are striking me as a little bit off.
For the record, I thought this book was brilliant. Its critique of America's current political and environmental climates was stinging, clear and soulfully rendered. As an SEO, however, I feel that a worthy (and non-political) discussion could take place in our industry around Al Gore's assertion that the Internet has the potential to improve democracy.
Gore puts forth the idea that television has created a very passive public because of its one-way delivery system. When you watch TV, you only receive - you do not send. Americans spend some 4 1/2 hours of their daily discretional time passively receiving information presented by a large number of stations owned by a very minute number of very large corporations.
By contrast, the Internet is the platform for 2-way information sharing. You can receive, but you can also send and almost anyone can publish a blog, make a video, buy AdWords. Simple self-publishing means that stories get told which major media ignore and Gore's book is filled with hope that the freedom of information and opportunity for conversation provided by the Internet may train Americans back out of an apathetic approach to democracy. After all, democracy is meant to be participatory, but there is plenty of evidence that many Americans no longer feel they have any ability to affect or control the government under which they live.
Gore's central point in this section of The Assault On Reason is that if TV has trained us to be unquestioning and inactive, perhaps the Internet will encourage a greater feeling of a right to involvement in all areas of our lives.
I found this subject and its presentation in the book to be compelling and exciting and would enjoy participating in a discussion about it. But then, as I read on, a couple of little bells went off in my head and they've been bothering me ever since.
After talking about this great potential of the web, Gore takes up the subject of Net Neutrality and the vital importance of keeping the Internet free, equal and open. He speaks out strongly against the danger, not only of corrupt governments accessing your information, but also against monopolies.
Al Gore is a Senior Advisor to Google.
I have been able to find precious little information about his top position there, but ask any linkbuilder what they think of Google and 'monopoly' may be one of the first words that comes out of their mouth. Google's enforcement of their no-follow policy on all text ads besides those purchased through their own Adwords program has caused endless, heated debate. Ask officials at the Department of Justice what they think of Google and you may also start hearing words like 'monopoly' or at least 'antitrust' thrown around.
In 2006, Google made major headlines as they attempted to fight off the DOJ from swiping private citizens' Internet data. Roll forward to 2008 and we find Germany's Federal Office for Information Security warning citizens not to install Google Chrome for fear, in part, that all of their data would be collected by Google and used for unknown purposes. And then, there's the whole Google Street View fiasco with privacy lawsuits flying as well as the new GeoEye-1 Spy Satellite, capable of seeing what you're eating for dinner tonight.
The Assault On Reason quotes Internet godfather and Google VP Vint Cerf regarding the urgent need to keep the Internet neutral and open. This is the same Vint Cerf who told us just a few weeks ago, in response to citizen concerns about Google and privacy issues, "There isn't any privacy, get over it."
As a self-proclaimed tree hugging, environmentalist organic farmer who is deeply concerned about Climate Change, I really respect Al Gore, I really enjoyed his book, and I am really bewildered by the mix of signals it has set off in my head.
Gore is warning Americans to wake up, stop being so numb about their runaway government, their privacy, their ability to maintain a free press and an open market. But Gore works for Google. And Germany thinks Google is becoming a threat to one of the basic rights which the United States Constitution and most state Constitutions make much of - privacy. Is the conflict in all of this information within my own mind, or is it within Al Gore's message? Last time I looked, Gore once worked for the government. Last time I looked, no one was saying that they enjoyed having their data collected, whether by Google, Gore or the government. But, all of us are continuing to use Google's services, every day. Is it that we just don't really care?
Maybe this is all starting to sound like a conspiracy theory, but human beings tend to develop long-stretch myths in the absence of true understanding and transparency. And, we tend to prefer clear heroes and obvious villains. Google has skated along on an appearance of trustworthiness for a decade, but the Internet climate is heating up over this subject and the ice appears to be wearing thinner.The least I can do, having taken much of The Assault on Reason's message to heart is to heed its warnings, confused as I am now feeling about their source. If we really wake up, as Gore is asking us to, what will we come to understand about the company he works for? I'd like to know what you think.
Miriam Ellis is the co-owner of Solas Web Design and CopyLocal, providing SEO-based website design, Local SEO and professional copywriting for small-to-medium North American businesses. She is the Local SEO Associate in the Q&A Forum at SEOmoz, a moderator at Cre8asite Forums and an annual participant in David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors report. When she and her husband are not working on the web, they're farming organically and working on increased sustainability or roaming about in nature having the time of their lives.
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