Happy 17th birthday Google, now let’s talk about what you do next…

Happy 17th birthday Google, now let’s talk about what you do next…

I was an idiot when I was 17. Okay, okay, scratch that, I’m still an idiot. But today is Google’s 17th birthday.

Today marks 17 years since Brin and Page founded the company. In that time it has gone from one of a clutch of search engines to a cultural force, to a corporation that cannot be erased from history.

You can stick a pin in history and define human existence before and after Google. It has changed the way we think, the way we learn, the way we shop and the way we think about business. Its influence is hard to truly quantify.

When Google announced that it was creating a parent company called Alphabet and curling up beneath its friendly tentacles, I wrote:

The world is a problem to be solved for them and the constraints of ‘Google’ were chafing too much. We should be thrilled – Alphabet will be able to move faster and smarter. And concerned – the company’s ownership of military-angled companies like Boston Dynamics should be closely scrutinised.

I was 14 when Google was founded. I have lived my entire working life in the shadow of Google and the way its existence and mission to gobble up all of the world’s information has changed the business I chose – writing and journalism. I am a child of Google, like the rest of my generation.

It’s easy to take the Dave Eggers view – as represented in his novel ‘The Circle’ – and consider Google as the manifestation of the dystopian corporate nightmare. It crawls into every corner, tries to change every business.

The United States of Watching You by Peekaboo
The United States of Watching You by Peekasso

The vision of Brin and Page plastered on the side of buildings, in massive GIF form, like Big Brother with a YouTube account, haunts me regularly. I don’t think it will really happen but I do think that the company doesn’t quite know when to stop.

I don’t necessarily want to hear that Google is messing with the DNA of mosquitos or blindly accept the founders’ desire to master and defeat death.

When I think about Calico, Google’s company designed to fight mortality, I’m drawn to another cultural phenomenon that began when I was a teenager – the Harry Potter novels. In them, Hermione and Harry have this exchange:

’The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death’…“ A horrible thought came to him, and with it a kind of panic. ”Isn’t that a Death Eater idea? Why is that there?”

“It doesn’t mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry,” said Hermione, her voice gentle. “It means… you know… living beyond death. Living after death.”

That’s something that the billionaires that are trying to do away with death should think on. Google’s achievements will allow Brin and Page to ‘live beyond death,’ as they are already living legends.

What they do next, as Google moves beyond its teens and into adulthood, will truly be their legacy. I hope they continue to choose wisely.

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