I absolutely love the voice Nicholson Baker uses in his review of Ken Auletta’s new book, Googled. For instance:
One unnamed “prominent media executive” leaned toward Auletta at the 2007 Google Zeitgeist Conference and whispered a rhetorical question in his ear: What real value, he wanted to know, was Google producing for society?
Wait. What real value? Come now, my prominent executive friend. Have you not glanced at Street View in Google Maps? Have you not relied on the humble aid of the search-box calculator, or checked out Google’s movie showtimes, or marveled at the quick-and-dirtiness of Google Translate? Have you not made interesting recherché 19th-century discoveries in Google Books? Or played with the amazing expando-charts in Google Finance? Have you not designed a strange tall house in Google SketchUp, and did you not make a sudden cry of awed delight the first time you saw the planet begin to turn and loom closer in Google Earth? Are you not signed up for automatic Google News alerts on several topics? I would be very surprised if you are not signed up for a Google alert or two.
“I would be very surprised if you are not signed up for a Google alert or two.” He sneaks it in, and it’s so cutting, but not without a wink. Snark at its best and most palatable. Then, there’s this:
Surely no other software company has built a cluster of products that are anywhere near as cleverly engineered, as quick-loading and as fun to fiddle with, as Google has, all for free. Have you not searched?
“Have you not searched?” I don’t know—maybe it’s the residual tryptophan in my brain mixing with the second cup of coffee and anything would seem delightful at this moment—but I really think that, in terms of language and logic alike, Nicholson Baker hits this one spot-on.
And it’s notable because so many of the spot-on assessments of new media, culture and technology have come, lately, from Nicholson Baker. Nicholson Baker on Wikipedia. Nicholson Baker on the Kindle. He’s neither a booster nor a troll; he seems to approach it all with curiosity—the curiosity of an actual user, no small thing—and amusement. And he’s always surprising. This is Nicholson Baker, the guy who wrote about “the assault on paper.” And he’s “fond of Google”? Why, sure. He’s a thinker, not a pundit; a working brain, not a billboard hawking the same idea, over and over.
Seems to me Nicholson Baker might be a bookfuturist, whether he knows it or not.
See also: The Nicholson Baker Tapes.