A History of the Company as Told by the Incumbent Sociopaths

I’d been meaning to write up a review of Ken Auletta’s Googled: The End of the World As We Know It.
My basic point would have been that this is a book written from the point of view of the media industry. The “We” in his title consists of media barons, and the world as they know it—built around tight control, wasteful image-polishing, corporate empire-building, a studied disinterest in anything that isn’t “content,” and a disdain for real creativity—really is ending. The most charitable interpretation I could come up with for Auletta’s decision to write his book from their perspective is that he wanted to (a) show how wrong many media moguls were and still are about Google and (b) make his message palatable to readership drawn from the media world.

But I see that Aaron Swartz has beaten me to the punch, and written a much punchier review than I ever could have. Where I say “media moguls,” he simply says “sociopaths,” and goes from there:

“What has Google ever done for the world?” ask the sociopaths at various points throughout the book. “All they do is steal other people’s content!” To a normal human the question is ridiculous — it’s almost impossible to imagine life without Googling for something, checking your Gmail, or watching videos on YouTube — but sociopaths aren’t used to doing things that create value for people. They’re just interested in conquering more and taking control. When Disney bought ABC for $19 billion, it didn’t improve most people’s lives in any real way, but it did let Michael Eisner regain control of the company he once ran.

So naturally the sociopaths are outraged that their control is being taken away. Newspapers, book publishers, television companies, ad agencies — their businesses are all failing, while Google’s is on the rise. The sociopaths may be outraged, but this is exactly what’s supposed to happen. Most people don’t have a vested interest in whether ABC does well or even continues to exist. What they want are good television shows at a reasonable price, and if they can get those from Apple and Google instead of their local cable company, then bully for Apple and Google.

Hearing things from the sociopaths’ perspective, it’s easy to get fooled. “Yeah!” you think. “Why should these Google guys get to control everything?” But for average people, this shift has been great: much more stuff is available, faster and freer than ever before, and the people making all the money off of it are actually decent human beings who feel some responsibility for the planet they inhabit. Sure, I don’t agree with them on everything and there’s a lot more they can do, but let’s not lose sight of the basic point: at least they’re not sociopaths.