As technology advances we grow ever closer to the science fiction visions of yesterday. The proliferation of smart phones, tablets and basically everything Apple is a near realization of many of the ideas dreamed up by countless authors. Amongst these advancements of physical technology are plenty of those that cannot be so obviously held in our hands. The internet alone has forever changed the way we digest everything. Feeding our thirst for more and faster, it houses more information than we can imagine sifting through in our lifetime. Google and the World Brain attempts to be an exploration of where technology is leading us, but amounts to little more than an account of legal proceedings.
Google and the World Brain attempts to be an exploration of where technology is leading us, but amounts to little more than an account of legal proceedings.
In 2004, internet mammoth Google began to push their search abilities into the realm of literature. Having reached out to several libraries, at a plethora of esteemed institutions from Harvard to Oxford, Google was scanning and digitizing millions of books. The project was presented as a method of preserving the texts as well as making them readily available to an international and increasingly digital focused audience. When they officially announced the creation of Google Books, what began as a seemingly noble venture began to draw the ire of authors and publishers. It seems that while many of the books that Google was digitizing were within the public domain, there were plenty that were still under copyright. Since Google made no attempts to gain the permission from the authors of the copyrighted material, and was now profiting from its inclusion, this was viewed as a breach of said copyright. So begins a lengthy and worldwide legal battle.
The problem with Google and the World Brain is right there in the title. Yes, it mixes in bits of Google and bits of the concept of a World Brain, but never fully commits to either. This is a film about the Google Books project and the ramifications of the accessibility of the internet. Any person who has grown up with the internet as a major part of his life can speak to the potential waiting on the other side of your computer screen. There are films on Napster and the Pirate Bay, as well as plenty of annoying, non-skippable warning screens before you can even get to the film you want to watch. To not recognize that legality and the internet have a tenuous relationship is simply naïve. The logical progression of events sees the digitization of information, and the internet will be the vehicle that allows us to consume it. The film recognizes this but is tentative to just come out and say it. Instead they dip into some lesser H.G. Wells to posit this idea of the World Brain. It is interesting, and assuredly a place we are headed, but the discussion adds little to the film and is pinned on to add some semblance of weight.
The film is populated with scholarly individuals, people that are surrounding themselves with books, reading them or producing them. It is clear that the brainpower on display is great, so it is with great confusion that they seemed surprised at Google’s attempts to monetize their digitization efforts. Google may represent forward thinking in a similar manner as Apple, but like the tech giant, it is first and foremost a company. To believe that Google would expense piles of money on an effort to digitize millions of books and then make no attempt to reap a profit is absolutely ignorant. The authors are not without reason for being upset, for the establishment of a copyright seems catered to this exact situation. However, director Ben Lewis seems unsure of how he wants to present them. No sides are taken, but in the copious interviews with jilted authors and publishers, they begin to become nagging and whiny, like a shrill adolescent that wants to play with all of the toys. The later realization that many of these people have gone on to develop their own digital libraries robs their arguments of any credibility and places them in ivory towers of hypocrisy.
Director Ben Lewis attempts to establish Google as a Big Brother of villainy, with the starving author struggling to reach out from his heavy foot; but only succeeds in allowing Google to look like the levelheaded innovator being forced to deal with nagging behind-the-times intellectuals.
As an account of the Google Books legal proceedings, the film is adequate. The problem is that legalities are inherently tiresome. It should come as no surprise that proposed settlements are lengthy, labyrinthine and typically lacking in settlement. Nonetheless, it is all played like some kind of tense legal thriller, complete with ominous surrounding music. This is not a John Grisham novel, so the attempt to push the film into this realm is nearly comical. It certainly isn’t helping itself that it all feels entirely one sided. With little presence from Google it never amounts to a well-rounded and complete film. Attempts to jazz up the terribly boring transcript readings devolve into distractingly amateur animation. Director Ben Lewis attempts to establish Google as a Big Brother of villainy, with the starving author struggling to reach out from his heavy foot; but only succeeds in allowing Google to look like the levelheaded innovator being forced to deal with nagging behind-the-times intellectuals.
A discussion should be had about the direction technology is taking us. The pocket ready portals consume people, and while the internet allows for increased accessibility to collected knowledge, it is just as often used for theft and pornography. Google and the World Brain would like to lead this conversation, but it quickly forgets the point. We accept that Google is bereft with information, only a lack of self-awareness seemingly separating it from Skynet, and we are certainly much closer to an established World Brain than when H.G. Wells first dreamed up the concept. However, this film goes off on a Google Books tangent that it never recovers from. What follows is a perfectly mediocre recounting of legal events, and it is hardly as intriguing as director Ben Lewis believes it to be. Google and the World Brain is little more than a by the numbers retelling, with great delusions of grandeur. It believes itself to be thrilling and insightful but only exists as underwhelming and shallow.
[notification type=”star”]55/100 ~ MEDIOCRE. Google and the World Brain is little more than a by the numbers retelling, with great delusions of grandeur. It believes itself to be thrilling and insightful but only exists as underwhelming and shallow.[/notification]