November 21, 2012 -- This Thanksgiving, take a moment to thank one of the greatest benefactors in your life: the entity who shows you the way so that you don’t get lost, or even after you do—the virtually omnipresent, almost omniscient entity who is glad to help you with your questions—the entity who can help you reach new customers or merchants—the entity who can help you find plane tickets to see your loved ones or help you communicate with them if you can’t travel.
This Thanksgiving, thank Google—because next Thanksgiving, it may not be so helpful.
The Value of Google
In celebrating Google, we celebrate essential human qualities we should honor in others and cultivate in ourselves.
Google, originally a web search engine that was known for the simplicity of its home page, is now one of the greatest contributors to the lives of individuals throughout the free world. Google’s mission is “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful,” and in this age of information, that means Google is ready to help with just about anything. My personal favorites include email, news, document sharing with multi-user editing in real time, legal research, directions (walking, biking, or using mass transit), translation, and videos. Oh, and Google provides the software that runs my cell phone and puts all these things in my pocket.
Thank you, Google!
It is difficult to think of another institution so valuable that almost all of us freely choose to seek its benefits virtually every day. I want to stress that: We freely choose Google. No one forces us to. We could survive without the kinds of services Google provides, and we could get those services from competitors. In some cases, Google couldn’t stop us from switching. And when it comes to Gmail, possibly the Google service it would be hardest to stop using once you have started, Google has gone out of its way to make it easier to switch to a competitor. We stick with Google because Google is good.
Not only does Google provide this range of services, it provides most of them at no charge, paid for by advertising. And it’s even improved the advertising. Offline ads often have nothing to do with your needs; before Google, online ads were often flashy nuisances. Google gives us relevant, low-key ads—on web searches, the ads are sometimes the best results—and it even makes them affordable for advertisers.
You probably know a lot of what I just told you. That’s part of why it has to be said: Precisely because the values Google gives us so permeate our lives, it’s easy to take Google for granted. And, this being Thanksgiving, it’s a good time to take a moment not to take it for granted, to acknowledge that Google is the creation of hardworking, creative human beings—Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt, and thousands of their employees—and to thank them for everything they have given us in the 14 years since Page and Brin launched Google.
The Threat to Google
It’s especially important to acknowledge them now because the federal bureaucracy—you know, the organization that gets involved in nearly every aspect of your life whether you want it to or not—is going after Google under the antitrust laws. At this writing, it isn’t clear exactly what, if anything, the feds are going to seek. But some sort of interference in Google’s ability to rain benefits on us will almost certainly be on the table.
So we don’t just need to thank Google. We need to remember what it was that made their achievement possible. Google is a product of human reason—the faculty that makes possible all the great achievements of human life and, as Ayn Rand
taught, human life itself. Google is a towering achievement of human productiveness—the virtue by which an individual looks at the world and finds ways to create new value in it, shaping reality according to his own vision and thereby sustaining and improving his own life and those of the people with whom he trades. (And Google trades with all of us.) In celebrating Google, we celebrate essential human qualities we should honor in others and cultivate in ourselves.
But as Rand also taught, to apply reason and productiveness, a person needs freedom. When you see a way to bring a new value into the world, you need to be able to explore it. That’s true of you, of me, and of the people at Google: To keep bringing value to our own lives and everyone else’s, we need to be able to produce according to our own best judgment.
If Google loses that freedom, we’ll have a lot less to thank it for on future Thanksgivings.
Alexander R. Cohen is managing editor of the Business Rights Center and associate scholar. He holds degrees in journalism, philosophy, and law. Cohen previously served as an adjunct assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.