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.


Eph Zero said...


I've been waiting for years for a shoe to drop on Google's "don't be evil" thing. I've long thought that once any entity becomes sufficiently large and complex, it becomes self-directed and self-perpetuating in a way that its smaller component cells cannot see. (This is my intuitive sense, based on no facts whatsoever.)

The huge disappointment for me is that Google products always seemed custom-made to my specifications. "Wow, that's exactly the way I'd do it!" It's a shock for them to do something to which I'm so vehemently opposed. I feel like they just punched me in the face out of the blue, after being nothing but nice to me every day for years.

But, then, I was expecting it to happen someday.

Eph Zero said...

Huh, so I'm still Eph Zero on Blogger, eh?

liz said...

I've been expecting a conflict like this since they started content-related ads.

I love Google, but have always held part of my heart in reserve.

Socrates said...

You could also argue that cities, and countries are the same way. In fact they oddly function like living organisms on a graphical analysis. Very hard to kill and very resilient. But if you attack vital points the system comes crashing down. You should check out the TED talks featuring Geoffrey West. He elaborates on the Physics of Cities, companies and organization and how they relate to biological organisms.

Glad to see such a scientific blog:)