In 2007, Mashable claimed that Google was making us dumber. In 2008, Nicholas Carr of The Atlantic went deeper, proclaiming that we were, as a society, becoming stupid in part due to the advancements of companies like Google. Carr was so moved by this belief that his cover story became the bases for “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” And now, in 2011, a team of researchers led by Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University has explored the cognitive effects of having Google at our fingertips.
All of the commentaries, both scientific and anecdotal in nature, explore the impact Google has on us as a society and whether or not our brains are being rewired for a new normal. That said, if given a choice of life with Google or without, I’m betting few people if any would say life was better before the search giant led the information organization and discovery revolution. But, if people are OK with a trade-off of individual wisdom for collective or artificial intelligence, would they be OK with the potentially more catastrophic impact Google is having on our world? That is, the rapid disintegration of the middleclass workforce and its impact of the labor community in our society for the future to come.
Technology continues to change our world, often for the better. Google and many other companies just like it, including Microsoft, Apple, and Cisco, to name a few, are continuing to evolve and advance what we can realize as a people through technology. At the same time, entire sectors of industry continue to struggle with how to handle the changing landscape. In the U.S., river towns gave way to rail, which saw a decline with the construction of a national highway system. We now find a digital superhighway changing our world. Personally, the upside is huge. Professionally, the risks are as great as the opportunity.
Last week, Apple passed Exxon Mobil briefly as the country’s most valuable public company. Is this a staggering ascension? Not the least, because Apple currently has roughly 60 percent of the employee base of that of Exxon. In the advertising sector, you only need to look at the contrast between Google and some of the top marketing communications companies. WPP, the organization I work for, employs more than 146,000 people globally with revenues of more than £9 billion. By contrast, Google is on pace to generate more than $30 billion in 2011 with slightly less than 30,000 employees. These pressures extend to all sectors from automotive to retail as physical presence and headcount give way to virtual exposure and cloud power. Once mighty commerce businesses, companies like Circuit City, Borders, and Blockbuster, are now in the grave or circling the drain at the hand of a new era of commerce led by the likes of Amazon, Netflix, eBay, and Google.
The challenge at hand for every business and individual is to determine how to pivot into the modern realities of technology. It’s no longer good enough to assume that the companies of tomorrow will have a place for the employees of today, because that’s the way it has always been. Are Middle America and middle management destinations or stepping stones? If the American dream of realizing a better life than the generation before you is to be true at an individual level, there is little doubt that technology will play a key role.
But let’s be clear. Technology cannot be realized without the people behind it. Google and Apple only make people, companies, and sectors obsolete if they cannot, or worse, choose not to invest in the talent necessary to evolve into the reality of where the market is heading. The question for employees in this generation and the next is – how will your education, professional training, and personal dedication drive your positioning? Are you setting yourself up to be a player in the future, or allowing your number to be a part of a growing story of a generation without perceived and ready opportunities?
If not then, when the postscript is written on a generation, it may cite that industries and opportunities were rendered useless by innovation and evolution. It will also note that personal evolution and a lack of willingness to change are also cause for extinction. So, back to the thought at hand; Google is making us obsolete only if we are too stupid to change and innovate at the pace necessary to keep up with the leading companies of this age and the next.