Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Systems Theory and the Nymwars

Here's the thing about the nymwars.

One fact I remember very well from my Systems class in grad school is that the function of an organization is what it actually does, not necessarily what it says its function is. And organizations function primarily to perpetuate themselves.

What this means is that, for example, say I set up a charity to fund research into curing a disease. So the stated purpose of my organization is "end this disease."

However, what actually happens in the organization is that people make phone calls, send out pamphlets, hold fund drives, set up accounts, and--why not?--even send money to the researchers. So in systems theory, all those activities are the actual purpose of the organization.

In fact, once the cure is found for the disease in question, the organization is likely to continue, because its primary purpose is actually to perpetuate itself (and in this case generate phone calls and paperwork). And this does happen with regularity.

So now people are trying to change the collective mind of Google by stating they are dissatisfied. This will almost certainly not work, because Google's actual purpose is probably not to keep users happy.

People using this (free) service are not, in fact, the "customers" but the resources that the real customers want. Who are the customers, then? Well, ask yourself who profits from your participation.

I guess if all the resources up and left, that would be bad for Google. But by now they have become huge and reached a saturation point where it's a lot easier to ignore that, because we are a flood of resources. And once you start profiting from your resources, it becomes easier to look at your funders' benefits and harder to remember to cultivate or use good husbandry with your resources. It becomes easier to take resources for granted. Look at our collective history and tell me I'm wrong: oil? water? animals? plants? human workers?

I doubt there are many individual Google employees who think of themselves this way. It's often difficult to see the actual purpose of an organization when you're inside it. But that's sure what appears to be happening.

I have my suspicions about why "real" names--as filtered through a biased Eurocentric perception, that is--would be profitable to an organization, but I'm sure you can come up with your own conspiracy theory at this point. So to be allowed to use your name of choice, you're going to have to find a way that this would be profitable for Google.