“Migrating to Google”

I just got an email from my former institution’s IT department notifying me that all files stored in their cloud storage platform would be migrating to Google Drive over Spring Break. Just as the birds migrate to warmer climes, so do my files move to a more user-friendly and familiar platform. Home terrain. Comfort zone. Frustration free. Ah, Google.

I wonder what files of mine still exist on that institutional storage platform, as I long ago lost the login information and never bothered to reclaim it. I wonder too about those digital traces that I’ve left elsewhere, at another university several thousand miles away. Like the imprint of the self left on the skin of the city by the psychogeographer, urban wanderer, Woolfian seeker of pencils, a deCerteau-ian trace, I’ve left indentations in the digital fabric. The migration notification sparked me to think about how a move from a clunky, password protected, educational platform, upon which I’ve left files I don’t much worry over, to a streamlined, accessible platform where I’ve already got a presence, signals not only the importance of critically engaging with the intersections between the digital and human experiences of it, but also an implicit desire to de-silo the digital world, especially the world of the university. This seems like a really good thing. But, it also begs this question: if we all migrate to Google, learn and use its tools, build things with its platforms and resources, what does that imply about the future of our digital choices or lack thereof? Does de-siloing the flow of information within a university and into the world at large make sense? In broader terms, will migrating to Google mean losing an autonomous, creative, and independent focus on developing tools for DH research and pedagogy? What do the developers think?

It seems now is a pretty good time for digital humanists to return to some of the questions David M. Berry writes about in his 2011 essay, “The Computational Turn: Thinking about the Digital Humanities.” He suggests that a third wave of digital humanities might engage with getting truly collaborative and dismantling the hierarchy of knowledge dissemination and acquisition provided by the brick and mortar university. This new mode of thinking through the way information is remixed and remediated within born-digital environments should provide us (the humans) an opportunity to slow down and make space for pedagogical change and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Berry writes:

[R]easoning could shift to a more conceptual or communicative method of reasoning, for example, by bringing together comparative and communicative analysis from different disciplinary perspectives, and by knowing how to use technology to achieve a usable result – a rolling process of reflexive thinking and collaborative rethinking. Relying on technology in a more radically decentred way, depending on technical devices to fill in the blanks in our minds and to connect knowledge in new ways, would change our understanding of knowledge, wisdom and intelligence itself. (10)

How do we reconcile “de-centering” and “de-siloing”? As we continue to immerse ourselves both in creating born-digital content and thinking about how it alters our learning and collaborative possibilities on an every day level, let’s also be mindful about how we can engage the digital humanities to rethink persistent categories within, assumptions about, traditions, and expectations of higher learning.

Google University, anyone?




Author: sarahcornish

Assistant Professor at the University of Northern Colorado. Working in 20th century American and British Literature + Digital Humanities, Psychogeography, Urban, Film, Gender Studies.

2 thoughts on ““Migrating to Google””

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about this discussion since we talked about it some after class today. I still don’t have an answer, but as I tend to do, I’m going to attempt to muddle through it.

    I think we have more than enough evidence from the past that monopolies are never good (unless it’s the board game and even that is questionable). Google is a business, and right now, Google has the monopoly on so many aspects of the web. I prefer to use Google Chrome and Google Search and Google Drive. I think the possibility exists that Google may one day be the only thing we have to use, but at the moment, we still have the choice to choose Google over other websites. But what does it mean that so many of us choose Google? Google is user-friendly and easy. And we like easy. Or at least I know that I do.

    What does all this mean for the future? I’m not sure. Betsy mentioned that Google tends to buy startups that it sees a future in. I thought at first that this could only be a bad thing, but it is important to consider that Google has the resources to fund and maybe even improve upon the original product. If the creators are still involved, they may have the resources to take the product above and beyond with the help of Google. I also wonder whether Google’s successes push others to create better products to compete. Or maybe Google’s products inspire new projects. I’m not sure.

    I’m also not sure what this all means. I thought I might lean towards Google having such a presence and ownership as a bad thing. But I’m not sure that I do. I think Google is making great web products, and as long as they keep creating easy and user-friendly platforms, I’m inclined to think of it as a positive thing. We live in a world of instant gratification. Google might fall out of favor; it might be surpassed. I think that is possible. The internet is a weird place, but it is, also, a place of “if I don’t like it, I’ll go somewhere else.” The internet gives us the option to choose. And I believe that it is that ability to choose that makes it safe for us to keep choosing Google for now.


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