Browsing ahead

By MIKE MILIARD  |  December 26, 2007

But such is the Mountain View mammoth’s utter ubiquity in our lives. Google knows what we write in e-mails, what we look for online, where we shop, and who we visit. As was once noted on metafilter.com, “the more we live in a data world, the more we get into Google’s Matrix.”

And we don’t seem to mind. After all, isn’t that a small price to pay for a service that makes life, on- and off-line, so much easier? In 2008, one sees little reason to doubt that “Google über alles” will continue to be the battle cry.

What’s next? The Google Lunar X PRIZE (a/k/a “Moon 2.0”), announced in September, seeks to bankroll a second space race, offering $20 million to the first civilian team to land a rover on the moon. Earlier this month, plans were announced for Google Knol (as in “a unit of knowledge”), a prototype that seeks to harvest users’ wisdom and, presumably, beat Wikipedia at its own game. A Google phone is another hotly rumored roll-out. And among the projects currently cooking at the Google Labs: Google Experimental Search, which lets users “see results on a timeline, map, or in context of other information types,” extracting “key dates, locations, measurements, and more from select search results so you can view the information in a different dimension.”

A different dimension? Wow. That is one powerful company.

Freedom watchers
For all the vast promise offered by the Web — potential that grows more mind-bending with every passing year — there exists, as always, great risks to our online well-being: Internet wiretapping, data mining, overzealous copyright enforcement, and threats to online privacy, anonymity, and free speech. All those dangers — plus a few more that no one’s thought of yet — will stick around in 2008.

That’s why it’s crucial to support and/or avail yourself of the services of organizations such as the Electronic Freedom FoundationCreative CommonsPublic Knowledge, and Worcester's own Participatory Culture Foundation.

Issues such as Net neutrality, with huge ramifications for how the Web runs, may or may not take their proper place in the popular consciousness in 2008. But whether striving to safeguard your online rights or working to keep as much of the Internet as free and open as possible, groups such as these are vital players in a world where more and more of life is lived — as Alaska Republican senator Ted Stevens risibly described the Web — in a series of tubes.

Mike Miliard can be reached from almost any platform at mmiliard@phx.com.

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