Googled – Book review

Googled, The end of the world as we know it.
by Ken Auletta, 2009, Penguin.

Ken Auletta, feature writer for the New Yorker is author of a number of books on the media. The end of the world as we know it describes how technology has disrupted the traditional media. If you had fallen asleep in 1990 and awoken in 2010, the world would be unrecognizable in many ways.

In 1990, we bought books and magazines in stores and borrowed them from libraries, watched network television at set times, listened to music on records and tapes, conversed on fixed line telephones and met friends in coffee shops. Today, we buy and download books to read them on electronic readers and computers, read magazine articles, watch TV programs, and download music and films via the interenet, talk on mobile phones and engage in social networking on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Disposition of the 24 hours hours in the day, especially among the young, has changed so that we watch less television, spend more time on various devices that allow us to connect to the internet by wireless and cable. There has been a significant impact on advertising. Newspapers are losing money, some struggle on, some have closed down while others publish only electronically. Meanwhile specialised and personal websites have opened up to post current news stories. TV advertising has declined while advertising on the internet although still at a low level is increasing. In 2008, Google made $23bn from online advertising on its search engine, an amount equal to all advertising in US magazines and two-thirds the advertising in US newspapers. Information technology, and especially the internet has done to traditional media what Guttenberg did to hand printing.

Many, especially traditional newspaper publishers and editors, decry the demise of their papers and fear that quality news reporting will disappear. They confuse news with newspapers. There is still a demand for reliable news but not in the familiar hard copy format. Current news has often been available 24 hours later. Now it is accessibe instantly with digital cameras in mobile phones. While news reporters may be prevented from entering a country, residents with mobile phones can report directly sending still and video footage. It willl take time for news organizations to adapt to these developments but there will remain a demand for reliable journalists.

Other developments have empowered consumers as has been the case for years with the selection of books and magazines. No longer are we required to be available at 6pm or 9pm to watch some TV program. We can record it on PVRs, access it on the internet and watch it in our own time and without commercials. Now the ‘consumer is king’ model is available for music and videos which creates problems for the meaning and enforcement of copyright.

I have just read my first book downloaded electroncally to a laptop computer. It was a good experience but I have no doubt that I am an early adopter and there will be significant improvements in the capabilities and uses of readers. I downloaded books to a netbook computer from Best Buy which cost the same as Amazon’s Kindle reader but the former has computing capabilities.

Auletta describes these developments through a case examination of the startup and growth of Google. For an economist the case illustrates private entreprenership, risk taking, venture capital, competition, intellectual property and the role of government. While the author was allowed to spend considerable time in the firm and to interview past and present Google employees, access to proprietary information was withheld.

I found the book to be an excellent read providing input to follow the fast-moving changes that will continue to affect our daily lives often in unexpected ways.


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