In search for the real power

Silva Vaidhyanathan’s “The Googlization of Us: Universal Survailance and Infrastructural Imperialism” serves as a very interesting and powerful counterpoint to Manuel Castells’s “Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society.” There were three very interesting points raised by Vaidhyanathan that somehow were more effective in personifying the new medium “players” than Castells’s article.

The first of these points was how Google, while guaranteeing the privacy of its users by a written privacy policy, “changes its policy often and without warning. So today’s policy – for all its strengths and weaknesses – might not be the policy tomorrow or next year” (580). Therefore, Google not only positions itself as the police over its own policies, but also carefully deprives its “costumers” of any legal power. Castells’s description of communication and information being sources of power in the “battle over the minds of people” (238) suggests Google positions itself as a powerful and flexible moderator/agent in this battle. It seems that Castells’s mass self-communication may have a new “competitor” other than the traditional political powers capable of controlling mass media, a new power that not only gives voice to marginalized “individualists,” but keeps track of these voices to be used by whoever is interested in commercialize them.

A second interesting point described by Vaidhyanathan is the amusingly depersonalized (and tragic) “Star Wars Kid,” who had to quit school after being harassed for having a personal video go viral. I take this as a true personalized example of individuals who are embedded and are major players in the rise of mass self-communication. While I like to believe that Castells’s mass self-communication offers a challenge to traditional powers by individuals who “think local, rooted in their society, and act global, confronting the power where the power holders are, in the global networks of power and in the communication sphere” (249), Vaidhyanathan at the same time focus on politically engaged individuals who may represent an infinitesimal number of the total number of players engaged in making their voices be heard online. It is incontestable that the new medium offers new ways of political mobilizations. It is also unquestionable that individuals who share many of the values broadcasted by mass media strengthened these values through mass self-communication. It is possible that the answer regarding what power benefits more from the new medium will never be known.

Finally, Vaidhyanathan speaks about users’ indifference to Google’s “Streetview omnipresence” (although he admits that individuals from rural areas present more negative views towards surveillance than individuals living in urban areas). He also presents Google’s CEO, Eric Shmidt, argument that states that “people are the same everywhere” and that this is “very disturbing” (593). While Shmidt statement may be untrue and may be made through the prism of his corporation that, after all, is one of the forces behind globalization, it may present a future trend. If that is true, social mobilizations, purported to be aided by the new medium, may not be a force against the traditional political powers, but against a world where social mobilizations themselves become part of a commercialized and global action.

In search for the real power