Does search undermine property? I don’t mean in the sense that some are arguing that Google subverts copyright to its own benefit. Paul, for example, suggests that:
Google are looking down the barrel of a fantastic opportunity here: They could end up as the world’s default collecting society – collecting a fraction of the amount that national or regional players would (from Google!) for monetising unlicenced content. Creators will only have a monopoly to turn to.
I mean, rather, in the sense that search – the physiological process, impulse and reward which makes up and motivates that short-term desire to get an immediate answer – is actually destroying our ability to even care about where these gobbets of information come from. If I’m right, it’s that not caring any more which is changing the rules – rather than Google’s latterly evil mission.
It’s not copyright infringement itself which is dismantling authors’ abilities to make a living out of their work but – at least in part – this “rising to the top” fallacy which search promotes that everything worth our attention can be found in a page of ten hyperlinks (often not even fully clicked upon) – and nothing worth our attention will be missed. In the essence of this fallacy we have a massive psychological change in readers’ behaviours. And it is that change which has prepared the ground and made it possible for the sadness of something for nothing.
There are those who would have us believe that the real enemies out there are those who promote a free and open web above all other considerations. If it were only so easy to pin down. If the enemy were as described it would be simple to excise them from the game. The truth of the matter is that it is ourselves – those of us who consume, publish, write and exchange information – who are entirely to blame for allowing Google to foist the search fallacy on us. Instead of writing for audiences of proper readers, we are shortening and slicing up our narratives to satisfy those who refuse to read more than three hundred words at a throw.
Or maybe just 140 characters.
We aren’t really pirates gratuitously searching to find something for nothing. We are, instead, Pavlovian creatures looking for our next slavering short-term fix. That is what search has turned us into. Mental drug addicts who care only for what the intermediaries can bring them.
In a world which could’ve been one of liberated producer-consumers, we have fallen in love with our pushers.
In a sense, the 20th century mafias which built empires on the back of drug dependency have been mimicked in the 21st century by companies which give short shrift to content. Whether search engines like Google, online media like Huffington Post or social websites like Facebook and Twitter, short and multi-authored is good whilst long and individually authored is bad.
Who’d have thought that the epitome of 21st century capitalism would be the very first destroyers of a true, coherent and properly woven individualism? Who’d have thought that search would destroy authorship?
It’s not capitalism which has won the Cold War but a content Stalinism in its most evil unremunerated form. And it’s not cocaine which is flooding our dreams any more – but words, stats and images which distract and headline our virtual streets.