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Dancing on Clouds – A Letter to LarryandSergey

February 27, 2010 2 comments

Dear LarryandSergey,

On March 9, 1967, 6 years before either of you were born, Joni Mitchell composed the song Both Sides Now. We have been inspired ever since by her metaphor of clouds and how it helps us see that there “are a lot of sides to everything.” She sings:

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
© 1969; Siquomb Publishing Company

Joni had just finished reading Saul Bellow‘s book Henderson the Rain King, and told an interviewer that:

“…there’s a line in it that I especially got hung up on that was about when he was flying to Africa and searching for something, he said that in an age when people could look up and down at clouds, they shouldn’t be afraid to die.”

LarryandSergey, you’ve inspired us too, you’ve learned how to look up and down at clouds of data. After looking at both sides I’ve decided my digital life is really better now that I can Google. My searches are rewarding and fast; I am empowered. I click, therefore I am. I can find and share videos and links and laughter. And, if anyone googles: paul r wagner, you get me! Yep, that’s me at the top of the list!

I know that my many divergent paths are your affordances. But, I am learning as much as you. I pay you in clicks and links and stops and starts and I am rewarded, too. My online journeys become part of your daily algorithm. I don’t really mind at all. I know that if I do this and if the next click happens to find a new discovery then that leads me down another path. So, like you, I can also look at things from both sides now. That’s my algorithm.  I Google, therefore I am.

All 500 million of us thank you everyday because we all have an innate need to constantly be searching for something. With some of us it’s desperation, with many of us its exultation. In turn, we don’t mind being the wisdom of clouds for you. We click. We get results. We go on. Like you, we’re dancing on clouds of information. Our lives are better.

I know that some of us are skeptical about Google’s ‘don’t be evil’ mantra. I’ve heard both sides. I’m going with what your Marissa Mayer revealed:

“We have several key factors that we look at to really understand what we call user happiness.”

Why is it hard for me to detect any element of ‘evil’ in that goal? I compliment you on your Walt Disney-Henry Ford allegiance to my user happiness, to such singleness of purpose that you keep demonstrating over and over? You are technicians with taste and you’re leveraging what you’ve learned about us. That’s not called communism or the evil empire, that’s called competitive advantage. Shall we call a cobbler evil if his mantra is “if the shoe fits, you’ll want to wear it”?

Let’s talk about the big banks that actually had our money in their hands and, in effect, irreverently lost that money this past year. In fact, they lost so much of our money (they still can’t explain where it went) that we had to bail them out! That algorithm doesn’t compute and so I think we could start talking about evil in the banks, don’t you? Maybe you can teach them about the wisdom of clouds and user happiness, ok?

So, again, thanks. You’re the best. I think I’ll just keep clicking for free, getting faster and more targeted results and let you figure out how to pay for all of this free stuff you keep giving me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be evil by leaving you with the bill, it’s just that, well, you’ve offered.

O, and before I close this letter. I forgive you for going ahead and digitizing millions of books and then asking for permission afterward. Heck, I do that all the time. If you don’t go ahead and get started on a good idea it will never happen.

Can you imagine if your idea instead was “Let’s form a national committee of smart people to figure out how and if we should digitize 20 million books.” What a brilliantly bad idea that would have been, eh? Sounds like something that might have come from that poster child of inefficiency, the book publishing industry.

Speaking of the value in forgotten books…I googled and very quickly (thanks) found the Google-digitized version of the book, Beautiful thoughts about happiness (1911) . As you guys know, it had been languishing in the library of the University of California which I’ll probably never get a chance to visit in my lifetime. Of course, thanks to you, now it’s really easy to quickly search keywords throughout this book. I searched for “clouds”. Here’s what I found. Maybe this can inspire you to keep up the good work on my user happiness?

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.
-Henry W. Longfellow

Sincerely,

Your pal, Paul