Review of Ken Auletta’s Googled: A Brave New Digital World?

(Brief excerpt of my latest book review)

Googled: The End of the World as We Know It

Ken Auletta

Penguin Press, 2009

400 pages

“I fear theirs is an old story about how good people deceive themselves.”

The sentence sounds more befitting of a Thomas Hardy novel — instead, it’s a vaguely foreboding sentiment about one the world’s most trusted and ubiquitous companies: Google. Despite the title of Ken Auletta’s book, Googled: The End of the World as We Know It, the narrative that Auletta traces is not just the story of a single company, but rather a story of how the advent of Internet and new media innovation have altered society in long-reaching ways (Think of “The End of the World as We Know It” more in the R.E.M., and less in the post-apocalyptic sense, and you follow Auletta’s logic). The author sees Google as an ideal focal point through which to examine this brave new digital world, primarily because it has for many people Google has become seemingly synonymous with the Internet. “The world has been Googled,” writes Auletta. “Googled” in the usage which Auletta employs throughout the book denotes anything which is swept up and fundamentally altered by the wave of technological change that has characterized the past decade. Sometimes this technological know-how outpaces our capacity to fully grasp its significance or to fully adapt around it — “Googled” in this context carries both a positive and negative connotation. Such is the nature of the Internet as a medium — or perhaps any medium — that can be characterized by rapid change: “because the Internet inevitably destroys old ways of doing things,” Auletta writes that it entails “creative destruction.”

It’s clear that Auletta — a longtime writer for The New Yorker on the Internet’s cultural impact — wants the reader to recognize Google as a profoundly influential media company with far-reaching ambitions: “If you can solve search, that means you can answer any question. Which means you can do basically anything.”

[Full review will be up soon on The Oxonian Review website]


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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