Me and My Google: Why I Can’t Walk Away from This Unhealthy Relationship

oblio_arrowOkay, so first off, let me just say I love Google. In fact, part of my anger at Google stems from the fact that Google does so many awesome things. It tells me all the things I want to hear, it brings me flowers or chocolates (well, at least it shows me where I can order them cheap), and at first the relationship was great. No boundaries, no recriminations, no keeping tabs on my every move. Now, however, Google wants to know where I’ve been when I get back to my computer. Google is forcing its Google+ app on me. Google even seems to be following me around the Internet when I’m not even on a Google page. So what makes me want to quit Google and what’s preventing me from just packing my bags and leaving?

What Makes Google so Freaking Great to Begin with?

Speaking purely from an academic technology perspective, Google just does things nobody else can do. It also does lots of things other folks can do, but Google does them much better. Here are some of the best things Google does for academic technology use:

Google Drive. If Google did nothing else, this would be enough. You can collaborate on a document or a presentation with colleagues in real time. You can have a chat window open and discuss the edits you’re making while your colleague edits a different part of the SAME document simultaneously. No need to have two versions of a document to reconcile later. No need to check out a document, work on it and save it before your colleague can have a look at it. Changes just magically appear in real time.

Picasa. Image editing, geolocation, face recognition, free space to upload your images, organization of your images, and so much more. For students and faculty members who need to do any sort of work with images, this is my go-to tool.

Google Maps. Mapping and geospatial assignments have become more popular in the humanities, and Google Maps does it really well. The new Google Maps allows for relatively easy GIS-style map making that I can actually roll out to map making novices, something I could never dream of doing with ArcGIS online.

I could go on, from Gmail, to the simple Google search (I remember that’s how we first met all those years ago), but you get the idea. And I haven’t even mentioned YouTube! By the way, did you know that you could subtitle your videos in YouTube? Anyway, there I go making excuses for Google again.

What Makes Me Want to Pack My Bags and Go?

Google is Jealous. Okay, so Google provides all these great services and products and all they ask for in return is they want to know everything about me. “Where are you going?” “Who are you hanging out with?” “How long will you be out?” Here’s a truth I heard on NPR a few weeks back: If you are not being charged for a service or product that has value, then you are not the consumer, you are the product. It’s pretty obvious at this point to most users of the Internet that most free services are free because the companies offering you the free product are looking to market to you, but Google has taken this to the extreme. They are not just marketing TO you, but they are marketing YOU as a product to other corporations who are looking to sell to you.

Google changes stuff around without ever telling anyone. This one is particularly annoying to me as an academic technologist. I provide interesting tools for faculty members and students every day, and very often those tools integrate Google products, such as a website that embeds a Google Map. Everything in the environment is living in a happy equilibrium, and then Google just decides to stop supporting a particular feature that was essential to the workings of the entire project. This sort of unreliable behavior makes creating interesting projects a real challenge, especially when an entire course has been developed around things working correctly in a stable environment.

Google has very little documentation. One of the by-products of Google’s mercurial nature is that it is VERY difficult to find actual documentation of how features and tools work. Google produces lots of cool products, but they seem far more interested in producing the product and far less interested in explaining how those products actually work. And searching the web for information on how to use one of the Google tools is always a mixed bag. It leads you to an endless array of unofficial message boards where other people with your exact same problem are asking for help and “helpful” respondents either not answering the question at all or giving a solution that worked last year or last month, but now that Google has changed something, it doesn’t work anymore.

Google+. Google needs to get used to the fact that we don’t like Google+. Forcing us to enroll in Google+ just to get access to some other cool feature of the Google universe feels incredibly manipulative. You know the saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink?” Well, Google’s ethos when it comes to Google+ seems to be, “You can lead a horse to water, and if you hold his head under long enough, he’s either gonna drink or drown.”

So What to Do?

Leaving the Google universe is just not an option because of all the cool things they allow me to do with my faculty and their students. But these days, I remind everyone that technology is temporary, and with great opportunities come significant risk of change. If you know what you’re getting into (that is, a dazzling world of uncertainty), and if you’re willing to say, “Oh, well, that was fun while it lasted, let’s try something else now,” then I say, bring it on, Google.

About Mike Blum

Mike is the Academic Technologist for the Humanities at the College


  1. re: “When something online is free, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.”

    Hello Mike,

    Prof. Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard University did a nice blogpost on the origins of this phrase: