Hal Varian is a UC Berkeley economics professor now on leave at Google as its Chief Economist. In that latter capacity Varian waxes poetic on the Google Blog about the “democratization of data” in the internet era.
The essence of his post is that volumes of relevant data, and tools to analyze and make sense of it, were historically available only to large enterprises at great cost. Now small businesses can get in on the act — and for little or nothing — because of the Internet and a range of Google services.
He’s absolutely correct at one level. But if the post was less a pitch there might have been a bit more ambivalence in it.
The widespread availability of information and online tools (i.e., Google) have enabled much in the way of growth for small businesses. But technology, the internet and the overload of information have also made life a great deal more complex. The always-on economy is a very mixed blessing for everyone. (And I owe my income entirely to it.)
The perpetual myth of technology is that it eliminates dreary or mundane tasks for people and creates more leisure time. In fact what it does is enable people to accomplish more in shorter periods of time. Productivity expectations rise accordingly. Leisure and pleasure often give way to the demands of more and more work.
The internet has also sped up time. We all now live in a “type-A” world, a world where there’s little time to reflect and consider the deeper meaning or implications of things. The current financial markets crisis is an example: the bailout package must be passed this week — or else.
While Google’s Varian celebrates the information economy, the democratization of data and its apparent bounty for small businesses, he might have acknowledged that the internet for all its benefits is not entirely without its costs to sleep and satisfaction.
Whatever your view, half empty or half full, we can never go back to a time when the only way to sell a used car was to put an ad in the local newspaper. Now there are at least 20 different sites online to place that same ad.
In an accelerating world characterized by the “paradox of choice,” with increasing volumes of information to manage and consider, we have almost no choice but to use search engines and services — like Google.