The house at Pace University near City Hall, NYC this morning was packed. Web consultants, bloggers, techno politicos, issue advocates and lots and lots o’ press were there to listen as NYTimes writer and book author Tom Friedman chat with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, kicking off the annual Personal Democracy Forum conference. The show has, in just a few years, achieved status worthy of attracting other influential speakers like Seth Godin, Esther Dyson and Larry Lessig. The goal each year is to help move the worlds of politics and technology closer, and analyze the current state of those colliding spheres.
Considering all the great minds present, you’d think the audience could stop browsing the Web, reading e-mail, IM-ing, chatting and Blackberrying for a moment and pay full attention. But I digress.
So, the event doesn’t typically delve too deeply into the ad/marketing world, and even though Google has set up a DC-based arm to reach out to political advertisers, the discussion between Friedman and Schmidt touched on lots of big ideas on Google’s effect on individuals and world governments.
Take the Google-effect on recruiting and hiring employees. “At the age of 21, it should be OK to change your name,” quipped Schmidt, alluding to the trails of reputation-corrupting blog posts, images and videos many young people are wishing they could delete when it comes time to impress potential employers.
Another thing discussed was censorship. Schmidt mentioned the “Great Firewall” set up in China to block content the government deems inappropriate for Chinese citizens. One interesting note on Google’s appeasement of China’s blocking requests: According to Schmidt, Google tells citizens in China what was removed from their results.
As for the more recent Pentagon request to block access to YouTube and other sites by military personnel, Schmidt stated plainly, “We would prefer that they not [restrict access.]”
Oh, and here’s something that media folks who cover Google may find amusing if not infuriating: Schmidt claimed more than once that the company is more transparent than ever. “We try very much to tell people what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” he said, adding, “We’re trying to use YouTube as much as we can to document.” Indeed, there is an official Google channel on YouTube.