What does it mean to Google, what are some of the other meanings?

Michael Gottschalk/AFP/Getty Images
On a day when most of the world is going to be talking about the speach of Barack Hussein Obama and his vision of America’s role in the Middle East, I want to talk about the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party. The Brotherhood has formed a new party, The Freedom and Justice Party,  to represent its issues and put forward candidates in the upcoming national election.   The Brotherhood announced the name of its new vice president today, Rafiq Habib; he is not a person that even the most people in Egypt will know and he is certain to be unknown to the rest of world. And given the temporal nature of news in today’s world, he is unlikely to get noticed.  However, he should, not only for his unique qualifications – he is an intellectual and a Coptic Christian – but for what he represents.  Habib as a political leader is a product of more than the new Egypt, he is a product of the Internet and the kind of democratic thinking it represents.
The world of the Internet  is not exactly my world – I was born before the mid-point of the 20th century.  Computers and the Internet certainly existed in the 20th century, but only as minor part of what it will become in the future; the 21st century will really be the century of the Internet.  The distance between my birth and the birth of a functioning internet community means I am slower to understand its concept and usages and slower to adapt to its trends.  So for example, by the time I joined Facebook there were already 300 or 400 million users; not exactly a first adapter or even a second wave adapter.   So, lately when Google’s name was being attached to things that didn’t match my definition of Google, I looked for ways to understand the different meanings.  My definition was stuck at:  “to use the Google search engine to obtain information on the Internet.”

There has been a great deal of Google news in the 7 years since the company went public, but I never really focused on it or tried to understand its implications, all I wanted or thought I needed from Google was its search function. Even Google maping was more than I wanted from the company.  But the news articles about “driver-less” cars and Google’s attempts to get a legislative authorization in Nevada got my attention.  What is that about?  That bit of news was only one piece of the story, one that probably everyone else in the world all ready knows.  It seems that Google thinks it can help make driving and traveling more safe by developing cars that can navigate without human control; it is part of a bigger project of using technology to solve really big and important questions of human life and human society.

There are many very big companies in the world; many of those companies spend a great deal of money on reserach and development trying to find unique solutions to important problems.  But by far the majority, if not all, build a business model around their research and expect in the long run to make profits from it; that need to make a profits shapes the reserach and determines the kind of problems it tackles.  Setting a goal of helping to solving the world’s important problems without any business model or indeed any clear road to profitable revenues is unique in the world of business.  In reading the articles on the automatic cars I encountered another use of the word Google.  In those articles Google has replaced Microsoft and Apple as model of intelligent business management and development; to the people writing or being interviewed on the subject, Google was the ultimate in business intelligence.  Google is intelligent because it uses a huge and democratic feedback mechanism (anyone and everyone is invited to weight in) from millions and millions of users to shape its products and thinking.

And now my point, that is a model gaining popularity everywhere, even in politics; and that is the story of Rafiq Habib.  The Muslim Brotherhood is “Googling”; it has been listening.  The Brotherhood has been listening to the public debates and listening to young people, the poor and the disenfranchised.  It has been listening online –  on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.  Unlike previous political parties, or previous generations of the Brotherhood, it has not tried to cram its agenda down the throats of the people, it has not even tried to sway public opinion with clever slogans or great logic.  Instead, the Muslim Brotherhood is listening and responding and in the process trying to expand its agenda to include the concerns of all the people.  That is not only a first (in my knowledge and experience) in the Middle East, it is a first anywhere.  The party has 97 Copts and 1000 women, that is a long way from representing either Egyptian Copts or women, but it is a lot closer that any other party the country has ever had.


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