Google and Microsoft: Lessons from Your
Are we doomed to be battlers all our lives?
What is the inherent nature of the universe – unity
or discord? Are we victims of circumstances? These and other
vital life issues are answered in one opening verse in this
week’s Torah portion; indeed, two words in the verse
change our entire perspective on life!
For more insight on this we don’t
have to look any farther than our own desktop…
Is the world becoming less or more united?
Converging technologies and economies would seem to inevitably
bring us all closer. Yet, the opposite is happening. Practically
every industry and segment of our society is becoming more
entrenched. Racial divisions and religious passions are
intensifying – defying all predictions and expectations
of the shrinking boundaries of our global village.
If the wise and enlightened ones of previous
centuries would see our society, they would never believe
that the proliferation of knowledge, unprecedented in all
of history, would actually amplify our diversity. They all
imagined that the forward march of progress went hand in
hand with the assimilation of extremes into one homogenous
whole. The information revolution was meant to be the big
equalizer. Instead, it is eliciting deeper extremes then
ever – both to the left and to right.
This divergence, recently coined as segmentation,
certainly has its virtues. It validates our inherent individuality
and the unique nature of races and cultures.
Yet, there is also an ugly side to these divisions,
as has been just made apparent by Hurricane Katrina. Beyond
the direct devastation wreaked by the natural disaster,
its aftermath has also exposed the very human disaster of
the painful rifts of class and race in this country.
Illinois Senator Barack Obama put it this
way last week: “I hope we realize that the people
of New Orleans weren't just abandoned during the hurricane.
They were abandoned long ago—to murder and mayhem
in the streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing,
to inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.”
Without minimizing the sad dichotomy which
has now resurfaced, demonstrating how parts of the wealthiest
nation in the world look like Third World countries, the
fact is that the polarization of the wealthy and the impoverished
is a global phenomenon. 1 billion people in the world are
starving from hunger, while Western (and some Eastern) wastebaskets
are brimming with over or underdone steaks. 64% of the population
in prosperous countries are overweight (and around 33% obese),
while in poorer countries millions of bellies are bloated
or emaciated from hunger. Gandhi once said that “The
difference between what we do and what we are capable of
doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems.”
Is there any hope? Can we ever expect to mend
this split or will human greed always keep us apart? We
must acknowledge the charity and compassion of our times.
Great strides have been made in modern society’s sense
of civil rights and social justice. Yet, we also can’t
ignore the undeniable inequality that prevails. Will we
always remain selfishly inclined?
A fascinating argument between two giants
can ironically illuminate this issue. No, I’m not
referring to the great sages Shammai and Hillel, but to
non other than our contemporary mega-corporate technology
titans, Microsoft and Google.
Perhaps less noticed than other more blatant
news, Google and Microsoft are currently embroiled in a
fundamental disagreement as to the vision of the future
of human endeavor, which manifests itself in two different
approaches to search engines.
Microsoft believes that the central point
of personal computing is individual productivity. That's
why their desktop search limits itself to probing the user's
hard disk. Microsoft argues that mixing Web-search results
with your own information is too confusing. Things go more
efficiently, they contend, when your personal data pond
is segregated from the ocean of information data located
elsewhere in the world.
In contrast, Google Desktop searches bring
results from everywhere – your hard drive, your e-mail
and billions of Web sites. That's because the Google mission
is organizing and managing all the world's information,
without distinguishing where the information comes from.
Though Google-ites acknowledge difficulties in merging the
personal with the public, their core belief is that the
essence of 21st-century computing springs from the connectivity
that allows all human knowledge, from books to instant messages,
to be potentially shared. This of course causes Google to
increasingly run into issues of privacy, copyright and censorship.
Which vision will prevail?
Thousands of years ago, Isaiah the visionary
declared that at the end of days “there no longer
will be evil and destruction…because the universe
will be filled with Divine knowledge as the water cover
the sea.” This statement may have been ignored or
dismissed as esoteric poetry. Today, however, these words
resonate more than ever.
Isaiah is confirming Google’s idealism
that all knowledge will be connected and accessible to all.
However with one major caveat: It must be infused with Divine
knowledge, the knowledge must be transcendent in nature,
lest we remain confined by our individual interests.
Though Google’s approach sounds more idealistic
and less selfish (consistent with their famous IPO vow,
“Don't be evil”), I submit that as long as personal gain
and commercial profit remain the driving engine of human
growth, than both attitudes, even Google’s, are ultimately
reinforcing the narcissistic force that separates us all.
Microsoft and Google are both right and both
wrong. Success is fueled by individual initiative and productivity
(as Microsoft claims). Knowledge is all connected (as Google
argues). Both need to be fused; the ultimate goal is to
merge individual productivity with universal knowledge,
and vice versa. But that is only possible when knowledge
itself is not seen as one’s selfish domain, but as
part of Divine knowledge – to be shared and accessible
The information revolution – and its
brainchild, IT (information technology) – deceptively
suggests that abundant information will make us free. The
fact us that more often than not the glut of information
is swamping and confusing us more than ever (just check
out the ratio of spam to vital e-mail in your inbox). We
now need experts, information traffic cops, to help us sort
and make sense of all the information coming our way; information
that makes other information relevant.
The key is not just knowledge, but Divine
knowledge – knowledge that has purpose and direction,
knowledge that helps us fulfill our higher calling.
The philosophy of the behemoth Microsoft essentially
captures the heartbeat of all capitalism: Growth is driven
by personal gain. The downside of this is that greed will
inevitable create the economic rifts that divide one class
from another, and the other schisms of society. Capitalism
must have a soul to balance its inherent selfishness and
resultant inequality (for a lengthy discussion on this,
see the series on Money
Google is definitely giving us a taste of
universal knowledge at your fingertip. But we still have
a way to go.
The answer to the question whether we are
doomed to endless inequality (with sporadic bouts of compassion
to relieve our consciences) really depends on how we see
the nature of existence.
The Torah view of life is unequivocal, as
stated in this week’s opening verse: When you go
out to wage war upon your enemies, G-d will deliver them
in your hands. The two operative phrases are “go
out” and “upon,” seemingly superfluous
terms. The Torah is telling us that “war” –
all forms of it: physical, psychological, class struggle,
racial – is not the natural state of affairs. You
“go out” – outside of your inherent nature
– to wage battle. And therefore you always remain
“upon” – above and more powerful –
than “your enemies.”
Self confidence and projection define most
if not all life struggles. When you have peace in your inner
core and you feel that any battle is “outside”
of you, than you may fight your adversary, but you never
become defined by it. Even as you wage war you always remain
The innate nature of man is unity –
we are all parts of one mosaic (whether we feel it or not).
Discord, divisiveness and battles are part of life, but
they don’t have to define life.
So as we read more and more about less and
less (Oscar Wilde), and many people know the price of everything
and the value of nothing (ibid), the wealthy become wealthier
and the poor become poorer.
Time has come to introduce and integrate Divine
knowledge into our lives. Spiritual consciousness is the
only true antidote to the by-products of prosperity and
Days are coming, we are told, when there will
“a famine in the land – not a famine of food
or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the Divine
words” (Amos 8:11).
This famine is upon us, but the good news
is that abundant nourishment is readily available to all.
The only thing required is the will to act and feed our
Our hearts and pocketbooks must always go
out to those in need. Today that includes the thousands
of misplaced souls in the Gulf Coast, as well as people
in dire straits wherever they may be.
But above all, this must not be a commitment
for the moment, but a lifetime activity. We are compassionate
not because there are people in need; but because we are
soulful people — and the soul dictates that we are
all integrally bound. Pain in one part of the world does
not allow any other part to be complete.
May we always remember this even when there
is no apparent crisis.