The book that triggered my blogging hiatus for six months was The New Digital Age, by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. I always try to write about the parts that inspire my and I like books where I do not agree with the author(s). So why did this book made me stop writing? Basically I could not understand why an intelligent person like Eric could put his name on something that was of such low quality, so simplistic, and also to a large extent felt like a propaganda tool for the worst parts of American foreign policy. I then thought it might be interesting to explore the book from a perspective where I could understand what Google wanted from the Whitehouse. But my assumption was that Jared Cohen was a senior person in the Obama administration on his way to the top. I then I saw that Eric recruited Jared to work in Google Ideas. Looking at Google Ideas now in 2014, four year after it started it is hard to see what is going on. Nothing has been posted on Google + since January 2014 and the latest project/video is eight months old. The projects are not bad, but not very innovative, basically nine mainstream visualizations and coordination efforts that any ODA organization could have done.
With Google’s brand and skills you would expect something better than projects that something any semiskilled coder could pull off in a week or two. Or maybe I’m missing something here? The fact that Google, still, have a reasonable good brand, that they have two of the most thoughtful and visionary founders, etc. should allow them to do so much more than this. They could address the issues they do in more innovative ways, they could address the major challenges of today and they could work in a way that is more 21st century and less 19th century.
Back to the book: The ideas in the book are basically just a long laundry list of different technologies, presented without any context or discussion about the problems associated with them and how they are implemented. Most of the things are not directly wrong, but without a context they are trivial and many of them can be misunderstood as unique or groundbreaking.
The book reflects such a narrow and old perspective that you would expect a 70-year-old conservative person, who is desperately clinging to an old cold war worldview, to be the author. But this is a book by two young persons. One who should know a lot about technology (Eric) and one who should know a lot about current and future global policy challenges (Jared). Still they manage to produce something that is no more than scribbled notes where they seem very fascinated by themselves for being in exotic countries, and then Googled a few articles as they came back to “analyze” the situation.
The combination of a commercial perspective that they see no problem with what Google and others are doing and an outdated foreign policy agenda could have made it a thought-provoking book, but it is just boring, It is not only the low quality in the “research” and the fact that it often it feels as if you are reading press releases from Google and the US government that are cut and pasted together. Add to this the fact that the really interesting parts of the digital age, and this include mainstream phenomena like Wikipedia and WikiLeaks are hardly mentioned (and when they are it is in dismissive ways). The fact that major challenges like climate change and resource use are not even mentioned just make the book even more irrelevant. All this makes this one of the few books where I really can’t see why anyone should read, but maybe there is something hidden in the pages that I can’t find?
Still, being an optimist I hope that books like this can inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs to address the actual challenges of our time and focus less on trivial entertainment and old problems.