Google has executed an information coup d’état. From its early days as a noncommercial search engine powered by geeky idealists, it has become the primary force in commercializing our culture. No bit of online content escapes Google’s grasp without first being turned into fodder for advertising. Whether it is our emails, our videos or our blogs and books, access is granted only if we accept the presence of targeted advertising. Google has become the commercialized frame through which our culture is accessed, and it is therefore the first advertising company to achieve the status of the cultural paratext.
For literary theorists, the paratext is contrasted with the hypotext. While the latter refers to the content of the author’s words, the paratext is everything that surrounds those pages: the cover, the copyright notice, the editor’s introduction, the author’s bio – all these make up the content that complements the hypotext. The paratext is a part of the overall text, but it plays a unique role in framing the work. When we speak of not judging a book by its cover, for example, we are acknowledging the overwhelming power that the paratext has in influencing our interpretation of the original source material. Understanding the force of the paratext pushes us to consider the consequences for our culture if everything online is surrounded in a frame of advertising.
This is why quibbles over the relevance and usefulness of Google’s ads, or whether they are distracting, miss the fundamental point. If advertising becomes the frame of our culture, then all thought is constrained by its horizon. The forces of commercialization need not counter the messages of anti-consumerism if they are able to play the role of the paratext. Simply running advertisements alongside attacks on commercialized culture neutralizes that resistance. All of a sudden it seems unreasonable, impossible or old-fashioned to dream outside Google’s ad-frame.
Google is happy to remain an infoparasite, an organization attaching advertising to the creative products of our minds, because there has been little resistance. Unlike traditional advertisers, whose interjection of 30-second spots into the hypotext of culture alienated viewers, Google promotes the illusion that it doesn’t change the content: It only provides access. But whether one is rewriting the hypotext or replacing the paratext, the overall effect is the same: Authentic culture, our only hope of escaping consumerism, is appropriated and commercialized.
Today’s culture jammers face a formidable challenge. It takes courage to become the early pioneers of the backlash against Google: to be the first to refuse to have our words become hypotext for the advertising frame. That means turning our back on this search engine-turned-info-highwayman by simultaneously undermining its image of omniscience while we hurt its bottom line.
Remove your writings, your images, yourself from Google. Make it known that our cultural productions are not available for commercial exploitation. And while we challenge the assumption that Google is all knowing, let us hit advertisers where it hurts: by clicking on all the ads. With each click we will cost the advertisers money while spreading the most powerful idea of all: that the paratext of ads is about to be ruptured by a movement of jammers taking back their culture.
Micah White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters. He lives in Berkeley, CA and is currently writing a book about the future of activism. www.micahmwhite.com or micah (at) adbusters.org