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]