“If you can’t Google it, it doesn’t exist”

Michael Gorman, the pariah of Web 2.0’s passionate pundits, is back on the Britannica Blog this week with another article warning intellectuals of the Internet’s “siren song.”

You might remember Gorman from last week’s post about the ills of collective thinking. This article appears to be, as one commenter put it, “link-bait” for Britannica, a more civilized version of a flame war.

Gorman criticizes those who anthropomorphize information and value it higher than other important mental steps, like knowledge and wisdom.

He also hits on the reliability of search engines like Google, saying that the value of information, which many hold to be very great, is dependent on a person’s ability to find the information he needs. Search engines, Gorman writes, are “miserable failures” when it come to producing meaningful results.

He writes: “Over many centuries civilizations have developed an ethos of scholarship based on respect for the individual mind and veneration for learning and the learned.”

Respect for this tradition and respect for text, he writes, required respect for intellectual property. He rails against the “Robin Hood” mentality of some digital pirates and the seeming tolerance of intellectual thievery by cloaking it in names like “file sharing.”

It’s another interesting read, just like last week, but I see a trend in Gorman’s writing on the blog. At one point, he writes that “If you can’t Google it, it doesn’t exist” is a common mantra among Jimmy Wales [founder of Wikipedia] and “his ilk.” Apparently, Wales contacted Gorman and let him know that he has never said any such thing.

Gorman has a way of assuming that others think a certain way when they don’t, especially when those people are “opponents” of his pro-individualism rhetoric. The larger picture of his constructed quotation is clear enough, but his execution is closed-minded and partisan.

I want to like Gorman. I want to stand up with a person who believes we should still have opinions and fight for what we think is right. I also believe in intellectual property rights, to an extent, but I cannot condone a style of writing purposely provokes a hostile response from those who you set out to treat as your scholarly enemies. It is the very definition of partisan/political scholarship, and it has no place in a purely intellectual discussion.

That said, Gorman is brave for taking on the majority. I admire him for it, and I acknowledge the simple fact that politics is never separate from academics. It is the conundrum of the workshops. We are stuck with the devil in the wings, whispering to us and inflaming our self-doubt and squabbling.

The Internet would not be the same without Gorman. I don’t have to like all that he has to say, but I respect him for saying it.

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