Ken Auletta, “Annals of Communications” columnist for The New Yorker magazine and author of Googled: The End of the World As We Know It (Penguin Press, November 2009). Moderated by Walter Isaacson.
As Google continues to fundamentally change the way we read books, watch television, and get news, The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta fears for the future of high-quality media. “They lack emotional intelligence,” Auletta said of Google engineers, who have created the most efficient search engine the Internet has yet seen, but who also have demonstrated extreme arrogance about the content they provide. For example, while Auletta lauds the company for the foresight to create a search engine that provides consumers with the best results and then sends them off to various portals (rather than dogmatically trying to keep people at their own site), he is also quick to point out that Google engineers “don’t ask, What about copyright?” as they forge ahead.
Whether through Google Books or YouTube, the Google team consistently opts for the most efficient means of delivering content without first considering the effects. When Google started posting full-length books to the Internet, said Auletta, they thought only of delivering the books to as large an audience as possible; they never considered that the process of creating a book involves editors, marketing, publishers, travel expenses, research expenses, and an author’s salary. Now Google is being forced to ink a deal with book publishers to pay $125 million for the right to post books’ text. “In the long run,” says Auletta, the Google emphasis on efficiency over quality “is dangerous.” After all, “It’s expensive to produce good books, good movies—for The New York Times to cover the world with 1,200 staff. …If that ends, then the consumer will ultimately lose.”
Although Google’s arrogance bothers Auletta, he is mindful of their extraordinary innovation and is much more disappointed with how late traditional media has been to recognize “what a threat this was. … I’m much more disdainful of traditional media than digital.” Auletta closed with an anecdote about interviewing Bill Gates in the early ’90s. He asked Gates what kept him up at night, expecting the Microsoft tycoon to say “Netscape” or “Sun Microsystems.” Instead, Gates looked at Auletta and said, “You know what I worry about at night? Some guys in a garage inventing something I haven’t even thought of.” Guess where the founders of Google were in the early ’90s.
Watch video. Ken Auletta discusses his new book, Googled: The End of the World as We Know It. As Google continues to fundamentally change the way we read books, watch television, and get news, The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta fears for the future of high-quality media. Auletta talks about the Google team’s emotional intelligence, its consolidation of power, and why they might just be more evil than they think they are.