Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Google Is Flowers For Algernon

I sometimes think that Silicon Valley is this weird abstract hunting ground where Neo-Victorian aristocrats hunt and kill good ideas for sport, the same way their ancestors would have killed foxes.

It's really hard to explain project managers and technology executives without postulating that higher education and corporate management exist to preserve aristocracy. They certainly don't exist to increase efficiency or productivity. To be fair, this is the Marxist angle, and there's definitely room for consideration of its polar opposite, the Ayn Rand angle, but Google's current condition is pretty fucking hard to explain in a world where the only powerful forces are excellence and amphetamines.

In 2004-ish, a recruiter from Google emailed me saying "we can't hire smart people fast enough!" I remember hoping it was exaggeration, since the only logical conclusion was that they would have to either slow down or start hiring stupid people, and they didn't seem to be slowing down. Since then, every programmer has noticed the growing useless of Google's "search product" (remember when Google's "search product" was called Google?), and the company has embarrassed itself repeatedly with Google Wave, Google Buzz, and now Google+. Google+ is, admittedly, the company's most credible effort to date, but it's still not impressing everybody.

Between two or three failed Facebook clones and an operating system which supports a huge range of iPhone clones, it's tempting to think of Google as a middle-aged guy with a pathetic combover who left his wife a few years ago and spent every moment since then driving around in a Ferrari, asking younger guys what music he should listen to, and begging various 19-year-old girls just to notice him at all for longer than two seconds. The best model for Google, however, is Flowers For Algernon, a tragic sci-fi novel aimed at a teenage reading level. In the book, scientists transform the life of a mentally disabled man by injecting him with an experimental brain-boosting drug. He discovers art, poetry, literature, science, and mathematics, but the drug wears off -- and kills him in the process.

It's a tragic story, but the most tragic thing of all is that Google has decided to present a live theater version to us all over the Internet, and with a bold, innovative stroke, they have cast a web site in the starring role. That web site is Google's search product (the web site normal humans outside of Silicon Valley refer to as "Google"), and they have fucked it up so badly it's like they built a Frankenstein monster using no other parts but the ass cheeks of a hundred different cadavers. This undead buttocks homunculus once awed us with its genius, but in its present, retarded state, it is a horror to behold.

I hope for the sake of the children that somebody shoots it, burns it, and scatters the ashes.