Google Me: One-Click Democracy. By Barbara Cassin

Google Me: One-Click Democracy. By Barbara Cassin French Studies, Vol. 00,No. 0, 1–0 REVIEW Google Me: One-Click Democracy.By BARBARA CASSIN. Translated by MICHAEL SYROTINSKI. (Meaning Systems.) New York: Fordham University Press, 2017. 176 pp., ill. Should one wish for a better Google, or for a fundamentally different model? Part breezy pamphlet, part scholarly diatribe, this is a deeply learned polemic about the problematic ideology of solutionist corporate disruption and its effects on knowledge generation and preservation. These radical challenges confront not only academia but also fundamentally change public engagement with information, as Barbara Cassin demonstrates. While there have been several academic and popular books that criticize Google in particular and net monopolies in general, few are as informed by philological circumspection, sustained attention, and philosophical sophistication. Building her argument on the basis of online search, Cassin investigates Google’s PageRank algorithm as well as the Internet Archive and Alexa, Project Gutenberg, and Wikipedia, to interrogate claims made about the transforma- tive impact of the internet. Cassin’s polemic was originally published in French as Google-moi: la deuxi`eme mission de l’Am´r e ique (Paris: Albin Michel, 2007). But the original subtitle’s allusion to an influential French view of the US here gives way in the English version to an invoca- tion of commercial seduction and exploitation by Silicon Valley. The translator’s circumspect preface situates this volume among other critical takes on the advertising monopoly that took over so many other functions since its inception in 1996 at Stanford. From experiments in weighted ranking, Google rapidly grew into one of the handful of globally dominant companies engaged in surveillance capitalism, expanding from search into news, email, browsers, mobile communications, social networks, and many other products. As Cassin’s foreword to the English translation attests, much has happened within and around Google since the book’s publication in 2007 (and one might add that strong alternatives now exist in search, email, and browsing). Nonetheless, Cassin’s untimely meditation on Google is deeply thought-provoking. It is not only aided by incisive transla- tor’s notes, but also by Cassin’s foreword, which invokes her previous work on what she calls untranslatables: exploring semantic and syntactic differences between fifteen languages with an emphasis on the supposedly porous and invasive discipline of philosophy. Her untranslatables are not symptoms that are not translated, but that one never stops trying to translate — and her interest in what their slippages may imply or betray is arguably also at work in her contemplation of what Google proposes to ‘organize the world’s information’. Cassin’s sidebars on philosophical terminology are valuable demonstrations of the concep- tual armoury she wields, as for instance in drawing a distinction between seeking the truth or joining current popular opinion. The core of the book directly tackles Google’s ‘mission statements’ — meticulously parsing each term in philological as well as philosophical regis- ters — but also addresses questions of copyright, privacy, and censorship. It is fortuitous that this excellent English translation appears just as more attention is paid across the globe to the mounting costs, particularly to individual users, of nefarious search bubbles, exploitative personal data aggregation, invasive advertising, and a shrinking private sphere. PETER KRAPP doi:10.1093/fs/kny083 UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA,IRVINE # The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/fs/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/fs/kny083/4995858 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 08 June 2018 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png French Studies Oxford University Press

Google Me: One-Click Democracy. By Barbara Cassin

French Studies , Volume Advance Article – May 14, 2018
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© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com
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Abstract

French Studies, Vol. 00,No. 0, 1–0 REVIEW Google Me: One-Click Democracy.By BARBARA CASSIN. Translated by MICHAEL SYROTINSKI. (Meaning Systems.) New York: Fordham University Press, 2017. 176 pp., ill. Should one wish for a better Google, or for a fundamentally different model? Part breezy pamphlet, part scholarly diatribe, this is a deeply learned polemic about the problematic ideology of solutionist corporate disruption and its effects on knowledge generation and preservation. These radical challenges confront not only academia but also fundamentally change public engagement with information, as Barbara Cassin demonstrates. While there have been several academic and popular books that criticize Google in particular and net monopolies in general, few are as informed by philological circumspection, sustained attention, and philosophical sophistication. Building her argument on the basis of online search, Cassin investigates Google’s PageRank algorithm as well as the Internet Archive and Alexa, Project Gutenberg, and Wikipedia, to interrogate claims made about the transforma- tive impact of the internet. Cassin’s polemic was originally published in French as Google-moi: la deuxi`eme mission de l’Am´r e ique (Paris: Albin Michel, 2007). But the original subtitle’s allusion to an influential French view of the US here gives way in the English version to an invoca- tion of commercial seduction and exploitation by Silicon Valley. The translator’s circumspect preface situates this volume among other critical takes on the advertising monopoly that took over so many other functions since its inception in 1996 at Stanford. From experiments in weighted ranking, Google rapidly grew into one of the handful of globally dominant companies engaged in surveillance capitalism, expanding from search into news, email, browsers, mobile communications, social networks, and many other products. As Cassin’s foreword to the English translation attests, much has happened within and around Google since the book’s publication in 2007 (and one might add that strong alternatives now exist in search, email, and browsing). Nonetheless, Cassin’s untimely meditation on Google is deeply thought-provoking. It is not only aided by incisive transla- tor’s notes, but also by Cassin’s foreword, which invokes her previous work on what she calls untranslatables: exploring semantic and syntactic differences between fifteen languages with an emphasis on the supposedly porous and invasive discipline of philosophy. Her untranslatables are not symptoms that are not translated, but that one never stops trying to translate — and her interest in what their slippages may imply or betray is arguably also at work in her contemplation of what Google proposes to ‘organize the world’s information’. Cassin’s sidebars on philosophical terminology are valuable demonstrations of the concep- tual armoury she wields, as for instance in drawing a distinction between seeking the truth or joining current popular opinion. The core of the book directly tackles Google’s ‘mission statements’ — meticulously parsing each term in philological as well as philosophical regis- ters — but also addresses questions of copyright, privacy, and censorship. It is fortuitous that this excellent English translation appears just as more attention is paid across the globe to the mounting costs, particularly to individual users, of nefarious search bubbles, exploitative personal data aggregation, invasive advertising, and a shrinking private sphere. PETER KRAPP doi:10.1093/fs/kny083 UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA,IRVINE # The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/fs/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/fs/kny083/4995858 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 08 June 2018

Journal

French StudiesOxford University Press

Published: May 14, 2018

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