Eric Schmidt Takes Refreshingly Sober View Of Technology In His Book “The New Digital Age”

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 8.46.57 PMAlong with co-author and foreign policy expert Jared Cohen, Google Executive Chairman is doing the rounds on radio and TV in support of their new book The New Digital Age. This evening, both were interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered program.

I don’t have an advance copy of the book and haven’t read it. But, the interview made me curious. If it’s any indication, there’s considerable time spent on the darker political and social implications of the Internet and the way it may play out differently in various parts of the world.

Schmidt and Cohen appear to have a very balanced — one might even say “sober” — view of the opportunities as well the potential pitfalls of technology.

They are not the typical technology boosters or doe-eyed futurists who believe that tech will solve all the world’s problems (e.g., “Won’t it be wondrous when human brains can be implanted in cyborg bodies”). In fact, Schmidt and Cohen fear that technology will be exploited or become a tool of political repression in many parts of the world.

Schmidt tells NPR:

One of our core concerns is that unless people fight for privacy, they will lose it in countries which have no history of concern over privacy. In the Western world, the governments will ultimately figure out a balance between these two: the legitimate use … by the police of this kind of information, and the incorrect use by others. But in many countries, there’s no history of privacy at all, and so the government can go in and essentially create a police state without any protections for citizens, and no one will even notice. And once those systems are in place in those countries, it’ll be difficult to reform them.

As the quote above indicates, the authors also talk at some length about individual privacy. That includes the loss of control over one’s personal reputation (a mirror of what’s happened to large companies and brands). Schmidt and Cohen now recommend having “the digital conversation” with kids (“everything you do online will follow you forever”) well before the conversation about “the birds and the bees.”

It’s actually quite refreshing that the book isn’t some artificially optimistic puff piece for Google, whom both men work for, or the authors themselves. A second installment of the interview will be aired tomorrow. In it, Schmidt discusses his recent trip to North Korea and impressions of the country’s paranoid leadership.

There is, of course, considerable irony in Google’s Executive Chairman warning about the negative impact of the Internet on personal privacy, when Google is in hot water in Europe over its privacy policy. And, the NPR interview doesn’t shy away from that seeming contradiction. Schmidt responds that Europe and Google are arguing not about privacy itself but about the degree of transparency and disclosure required of Google. Regardless, Schmidt is clearly saying that the new digital age has a corrosive impact on privacy and that we all must be mindful of that.

The hardcover and digital editions of the book officially become available tomorrow. If the NPR interview is any indication, the book is worth reading. And, I suspect The New Digital Age will probably join Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In on the New York Times bestseller list.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Business Issues | Google: Privacy | Politics | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn

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