All Your Attention is Belong to the Google
One place to start is with the various kinds of realities we live with. Some examples include mathematical realities (absolute within the bounds of the assumptions), scientific realities (supposedly based on solid evidence), religious realities (where faith trumps evidence), business realities (reduced to the bottom line), and political realities (such as the dysfunction in today's USA). However, the particular kind of reality that is bothering me just now is social reality, where a particular social reality is based upon what some group of people believe about their society. The underlying problem is that a social reality can be wrong, can be changed, or, worst of all, can be manipulated. Today's questionable social reality is that advertising can and even should be shoved in your face.
Plodder that I am, I want to start with an example of a thoroughly discredited social reality. Take the ancient social reality of slavery. I think nowadays we have a pretty solid consensus that human slavery was always wrong, but it still prevailed as a social reality for thousands of years. The exact forms of slavery changed over the millenniums, but the operative conventions were that the slaves were supposed to accept their status (and treatment as property akin to domesticated animals) and therefore work hard for their masters. The exact rationale for their enslavement varied, though racial inferiority was a pretty frequent theme. Sometimes it was defined by their lack of military prowess that allowed them to be conquered or their lack of belief in the proper religion (of the masters), but the important thing was that the social reality said the slaves were slaves and should remain slaves. (Going tangential again, but actually, it isn't clear to me that we've fully eliminated slavery, though we continue to change the branding. About 35 years ago I studied a major church in Houston where South African apartheid was defended as upholding the proper blessed and sacred hierarchy, with the 'niggers' on the bottom (though I'm reasonably sure the preacher didn't use the N-word himself). In the last few years we seem to be developing new forms of indebted servitude and effective wage slavery based on inescapable student-loan debts in an economic environment packed with minimum-wage jobs that can never repay those loans. Separately, there's also the aspect that governments always have a strong preference for citizens who obey the government without annoying questions.)
Anyway, back to the main theme of why I believe "All your attention is belong to the google" is such a bad thing. The discussion in question actually started from my belief that time-based economics makes more sense, as jovially summarized in "Couch Potatoes of the World, Unite!" I was rather surprised or even shocked by his frankness in response. Google just wants the most precious time of all, the time with our attention attached to it. That's the time when an ad is most likely to do the most "good" and result in a paid click for the google and a possible sale for the advertiser paying for the click.
Consider the ethical ramifications of "All your attention is belong to the google". My position is that your time is a vital and precious resource, and you want to maximize the value of it. For example, if you have children, then I think you want to give lots of your attention to your children, but now that means you are intruding on the google's rights to claim all of your attention for more advertising. Yes, I'm overextending his position, but my point is that this claim on my attention fails the most basic ethical test: No one would not want to live in a world where that principle was broadly applied to everyone all of the time. Unfortunately, that is where the google is heading, in a desperate search for new and innovative ways to intrude on our attention and divert our precious and limited time to responding to ads.
My response to that meeting was to conclude that the google has become a kind of Russian Pravda joke. I'm pretty sure things have changed since the Soviet Union went away, but it used to be that the skill of reading the newspaper in the Soviet Union involved projecting backwards from the actual news stories. For example, if there were several articles about airplane crashes in other countries, the sophisticated Soviet reader understood it to signify that there had been an airplane crash somewhere in the USSR.
From that perspective, "Don't be evil" probably represented an understanding that the google was fundamentally an evil enterprise from the git go, whereas my original hypothesis had been that the google only became evil after it reached a critical mass and was 'captured' by the American legal system. (This is actually a diversion, but here is my brief summary of business in America: Most businesspeople are fine and upstanding folks who just want to play the game by the rules. Unfortunately, the rules are encoded as laws written by the most cheaply bribed professional politicians working for the greediest and least ethical businessmen. As 'big' businessmen, they are profiting from and therefore pushing forward a cancer-like economic model that must end with the death of the host.)
In the subsequent email, he had apparently concluded that I was arguing the world is generally evil, whereas my focus is simply on making things better. To be clear, I don't think the world is evil or bad, but that the world is a pretty amazing place and getting better—but only on the long-term average, and none of us live on the long term. For example, I believe that good people generally have better lives, but any individual can have bad breaks, no matter how good. (There are many religious and philosophic books on the theme of why bad things happen to good people, but you should be glad I'm not going there today...) I would diverge farther into consideration of evolutionary versus deliberative progress, but instead I'll just recommend a couple of the relevant books: The Blind Watchmaker, one of the best treatments of evolution, and The Omnivore's Dilemma, which has a lot on related topics from the perspective of what we eat and how. (Or is this diversion just another aspect of my zen collapse?)
Not sure how to bring all the threads together, but I strongly believe that "All your attention is belong to the google" is a joke of the sickest sort. Feel free to react, and my apologies in advance for the moderation (but I will not support the spammers).