Just Because No One's Forcing You To Use Something Doesn't Mean You Can't (Or Shouldn't) Criticise It

Much has been written over the past few weeks about Google's decision to enforce real-life identities rather than allow pseudonymity on Google+, including today's great piece from Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow (we side with Doctorow). In his article, though, Doctorow articulates a problem we've all run into when engaging in critical discourse—especially when criticising free online services like Google+ or Facebook.

...when Google's chairman, Eric Schmidt, told NPR's Andy Carvin, "G+ is completely optional. No one is forcing you to use it", he implied the only time a service should come under critical scrutiny is when it is mandatory.

This simplistic theory of critical discourse is perfectly incoherent, implying that in a marketplace, the only role "consumers" have is to buy things or not buy things, use things or not use things, and that these decisions should not be informed by vigorous debate and discussion, but only by marketing messages.

After all, no one forces anyone to eat at a restaurant, so why should we review it?

Doctorow describes Google's defence as "monumental intellectual dishonesty", which we tend to agree with, but similar comments are lobbied at anyone criticising any opt-in service or gadget (which includes nearly everything we write about on Lifehacker). Doctorow offers a good reminder of why we shouldn't let that sort of claim derail critical conversation.

Google Plus forces us to discuss identity [Guardian]


Comments

    If anything the fact that its not compulsory should be MORE reason to scrutinise it even for google themselves, after all how will you know if that 'feature' is having no net effect, briging people in or driving people away?

    I think, in this case, Google is mistaking constructive criticism for general criticism. These people aren't poking holes in a product they won't bother with, they're trying to help fix a flaw in a product they actually want.

    Most posts I've seen on the topic seem to be less 'This is why nobody should use google' and more 'It would be a better product if this one key change was made'.

      I personally don't mind using my real name, but I think Stove's comment is right on the money - it's not people ragging on Google, rather it's people highlighting a flaw in a product which could be improved.

    Poor Eric, people are criticising his bloated twitter clone.

    I think you mean "lobbed", not "lobbied".

    "because it embodies a highly controversial theory of human behaviour, that the way to maximise civility is to abolish anonymity – even though everyone knows Muammar Gaddafi's real name (though not how to spell it) and no one knows the name of the kind driver who slows to let you cross the road."

    That is just a stupid paragraph, and devalues the whole argument.

    I don't mind the real names policy, it is likely to prevent a lot of trolling. But I can see why some people don't like it, and in that case they have the option not to use the product.

    I think the problem with this article and the Boing Boing article is they assume incorrectly that "I don't like this feature" means "Google needs to listen to me". Rubbish, it just means you don't need to use Google+. There is nothing in Eric Schmidt's comment that is saying "You're not allowed to comment on what Google does". He's saying "Don't like it? Don't use it". The real names thing is clearly a key feature in Google+, and I can understand why.

    It's the same principle as Facebook - I don't use Facebook, as I don't like it. That doesn't mean the company has to change it to suit my personal preferences.

    I hate seeing people with additions in their names like "John da playa Smith", i'm all for the ban.

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