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Google's Wake-up Call

March 2007, no. 289

Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge by Jean-Noël Jeanneney (trans. Teresa Lavender Fagan)

University of Chicago Press, $37.95 hb, 108 pp

Google's Wake-up Call

March 2007, no. 289

France’s hypersensitivity about its culture is not infrequently derided, but it produces a salutary vigilance for which we can all be grateful. Such has been the case with the French-led defence of cultural specificities in the various ‘free trade’ meetings (GATT and WTO) of the past two decades. And such is this book by Jean-Noël Jeanneney. Deceptively slight in size – Jeanneney himself refers to it modestly as his ‘little book’ – it is a work that not only addresses a critical issue but articulates practical proposals that can, and should, command the attention of cultural policy-makers and decision-makers everywhere. It is also essential reading for the wider public. The issue is about which principles, in the already strongly globalised world of the Internet, should guide the processes of digitising the world’s literary heritage. Keenly critical of the plan launched by Google in late 2004 to create a universal online library, Jeanneney proposes a pluralist alternative posited on a quite different philosophy from that of the profit-based ideology underpinning the Google initiative.

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