or Why we continue to use Google (and Facebook), and why we will (not) stop
I recently had an interesting discussion with some of my dearest friends (damn nerdz <3). It all started with the (absolutely irrelevant for an English speaker) news of the launch of a brand new translation of one of the greatest pieces of literature of all times, and one of my favorite books, The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (always be praised ). This re-translation is being criticised pretty much from all sides: was it necessary? What was the point of abruptly modifying the names of characters that have existed in the reader’s imagination for decades, not to mention the general public since 2001 (year of release of the first film of the Peter Jackson trilogy (always be praised)? Will our children know a work of inferior quality, because of this unfortunate translation? And why, WHY in the name of Eru is the cover so ugly?
Let me briefly summarise some points of argument, which are not the focal point of this post:
– all translations are inevitably defective, and those who have read any book in two or more languages are well aware of it;
– our brain surrounds the memory of everything we liked as children with a shroud of positive emotions, because we are biologically designed to do so. Therefore, the future generation will have no idea whatsoever of how cool the old translation was for us, and they will love theirs exactly as well as we love ours. There are shitty bits in ours too, but in our head it was all rainbows and unicorns.
– bringing a book to the cinema has its positives and negatives: among the issues, there is also that one inevitably assigns a face to imaginary characters: my Gollum was mine, though I have to admit it was similar to that of the film. This effect will be even stronger for our children: for them, LotR will be the movie, Arwen will be Liv Tyler, Aragorn Viggo (both bepraised). This is not necessarily a bad thing, but without a doubt it will remove some of the mystical aura that we assign to written words, especially those written words – and don’t say “OK boomer whatev, my son will be different ’cause #Iwillforcethem“: first of all, I want to see how you’ll do it, but more importantly the substance does not change. They will no longer be fictional characters, but physical. Kids will have a much faster brain than ours, like we do compared to our parents (sorry mom); the images they create will be completely different. So all in all, we should consider ourselves lucky if they’ll even read the fucking translation after all!
These three points, interesting or not; correct or not, are not really relevant to the central point of this post. There’s a fourth point more prone to more extensive thought. At the debate I instinctively linked this recent article by Martin Scorsese on the NYTimes, whose main point is: modern films, the Marvel ones in particular, are nothing but an artificially manufactured product designed to tell the user what the user wants to hear – they don’t want to be stimulated, they want to be relaxed, increase their feeling of safety, decrease their stress: so I don’t have to make him think too much.
And Isn’t this the key feature of today’s lazy, shortsighted, self-promoting marketing?
If companies do remakes, re-translations, and various recycling, it is because of those who go to see Marvel movies and stuff like that. Everyone likes some standard, lazy thinking, to unwind from their hard life: Hollywood and similars are nothing but capitalist ventures for which only the capital counts, nothing else.
It costs Hollywood 100 to shoot a masterpiece, which 100 people will watch. It costs them 10 to make trash, with say 50 viewers: all in all, trash is more convenient. Also, if they try long enough, statistically they’ll hit the sweet spot where, with effort 10, they’ll still get 100 viewers (e.g. Marvel).
It comes natural to me to apply this reasoning to the world that I know best, the online one: a glaring example is under everyone’s eyes. Google (I’m talking about what is now called Alphabet, that is the whole Big G galaxy) has reached its peak because for a decade it has been much better than the competition. The layout was clean, understandable, fun; services were free, integrated, without Ads; the hardware cost relatively low; thanks to a better technology, Search Results were distinctly better (in this specific point, the gap grows continuously to this day, thanks to AI-a long-term investment G did, which is and will be paying dividends for long); open source practically everywhere; etc.
But now, why should they push for a better product? The condition of monopoly, let’s call things by their name, offers among the various advantages the fact that the user will tend by intellectual laziness to always use the same service. So let’s flood them with Ads! They don’t need deep answers to their queries, on other sites, two lines are enough to understand any topic as long as those two lines are on our site! Let’s charge for services: not much, who do you want to notice? Let’s keep brands hostage of our paid platform!
I hope this is a short-sighted strategy, leading not so much to the failure of the company (which in any case has enormous merits that we mustn’t forget), but at least to the proliferation of valid competitors: competition is good for the market. Right now, however, all other competitors are behind by several laps of the track. As Ben Thompson says here,
unlike traditional monopolies, it is hard to argue that Google’s product isn’t getting better
He is right: unfortunately, despite everything, the product is still the best available (I’m talking Search ofc). This is valid for many G products, but not all: I am trying to break away from the monopoly, as far as I can (for example, I use Ecosia on mobile – do it yourself).
It is we the users who shape the offer: if we are satisfied with mediocre services, mediocre services we will get: we do not deserve anything else.
Soundtrack: Pitfalls by Leprous