Yesterday, on April 29, 2020, Google made its premium videoconferencing service free for everyone (here). I think it is important to understand the relevance of this step in the context of our society and economy, looking into the deeper implications for how human agency will play out in the times to come.
Almost every human being on this earth explores and, interfaces with digital world using Google. In other words, Google is not only the people’s glasses or torch to look into, interact with, and interface with digital economy and everything related thereto, it is, in-fact, the people’s eyes for the purpose. To be honest, there is nothing much left in the real world that has not been digitalised or is not on the way to digitalisation. It is pertinent to mention that there are other search engines like Bing and Yahoo and DuckDuckGo. However those search engines are nowhere in real and substantial competition with Google.
Though the trend has always been there, during the COVID-19 lockdown it came to the forefront that social interaction ought to completely shift onto digital platforms. Person-to-person social interaction had already shifted to digital platforms when applications like WhatsApp, Facebook, WeChat, Telegram, and Viber came into the picture and scaled up exponentially. But recently it has been realised that the more formalistic dimensions of social interaction with huge economic connotations will also have to shift to virtual digital platforms. It means every aspect of education, governance, and economy are the next in line, for you never know what will happen in the times to come that might require human beings to avoid the real physical world.
Zoom became a very popular platform during the Covid-19 lockdown. However, there have been certain limitations do it – it is free only for the first 40 minutes and after that one has to pay. Though people have been using zoom for free, on a very large scale, for videoconferencing, it has not been able to achieve the scaling up effect the way Google Meet intends to and will. There are many reasons for the same.
Google already has way too much data pertaining to every aspect of internet and its users. It gives Google a very specific and unmatched competitive advantage over its competitors in the product market. Also, Google has sufficient resources at its disposal that it can deploy in order to achieve the scaling up effect at a very rapid rate. Furthermore, provision of Google Meet to everyone for free will allow it to leave behind its existing competitor(s) in very less time and more efficient way.
Google claims that its videoconferencing tool is meant primarily for governments, schools and businesses. If you take a deeper look into these three sectors, you will realise that there is nothing beyond these. Google Meet will practically become the only platform on and through which governance and public administration will take place. In a way, it also implies that deliberations related to policy-making will shift to the platform. Not only that, it will also be the platform that will shape how businesses conceive, operate, and engage in economic transactions. The whole education system that is considered to be the source to meet the labour market requirements will be running on Google Meet in future. It means that the limitations and the strengths of Google Meet will decide how our education system is shaped in the future.
I do not think that dynamics of our system and operation of our societal functions will return to the physical world the way it did exist before. The whole functioning of our society will have to shift to digital platform and Google Meet seems to be a very big, in fact the biggest, potential player in that regard. To be precise, Google Meet will mediate all social interactions that are not casual in a traditional way and afford concrete shape to the contours that define our socio-politico-economic and other institutions.
Will anyone be able to compete with Google in establishing a platform that will allow governance, economy, social conditioning to take place on it? Seems highly unlikely. I think it is very foreseeable that every dimension of our society and that of human existence is gradually but not subtly being converged onto a single platform and until that platform assumes independent existence everything else will become subservient to the underlying ideology of those who control that platform. It will be very interesting to see how the future unfolds. Looking forward to it, in principle.