Wednesday, October 12, 2011

to boldly go

Tonight I ran into a Googler at South Park Cafe.  We used to sit near each other in 2003, when I worked in building 42 on Desktop.  I haven't seen him in years.  He is responsible for Google's university grants program, and he gave me an update.  When conversing, I caught myself saying "we" to refer to Google.  It has been a long time since I was there!  But some habits stick with you.

Yesterday I wrote about the idealism embodied in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I appreciate how they strive to focus on the brighter parts of the human experience.

I think the best part of my Google experience was the idealism.  Everyone tried to do good for the world.  I remember learning for the first time that Google was scanning the Library of Congress books, to prevent a repeat of the Great Fire of Alexandria.  It was very ennobling.

People were always concerned about not doing evil.  Alipé once summarized the Friday TGIF questions posed to the founders as "Are we being evil in this new obscure way?"  I laughed but I thought it was a very nice attribute.

Minted is idealistic too.  We want to enable these indie graphic designers all the world who are talented but lack the right channels.  We want to bring beautiful designs to people during the emotionally significant occasions in their lives.

Sometimes I feel besieged with people telling me that idealism is naive.  They say ST: TNG is unrealistically perky, that all companies are deep down greedy, and that integrity and charity are always just a veneer.  But that is an awfully difficult way to live!  I choose to believe in idealism.

And to watch Picard.


Peter Norvig said...

You'll always be "we" to me, Niniane.

Yishan said...

I think this is a dangerous attitude to have. It ends up blinding you to the bad things that you do, because your thought process revolves wholly around doing and being good/noble. It means that it makes it difficult to admit that the things you may be doing may actually end up being evil, and thus once you do them, because there is already a huge mental edifice built up around justifying or explaining why something that is evil (or more precisely, over time gradually has become evil) is actually good, it becomes hard to pull away from it.

I think one root of this problem is that people don't understand what "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" really means. The problem is that the road to heaven is ALSO paved with good intentions, so if you're trying to do good, you really might have no idea what you've got until you're finished (and perhaps for quite awhile afterwards). This means that, while you're doing it,if you go along saying, "we are not doing evil, we are idealists and always trying to do good," you build up this HUGE self-identity of being good, and then once you find out that, oops, what you did ended up having evil effects, it's much harder to pull out of it because then you have to violate your self-identity.

I've seen friends who are so set on being right and good and noble that after awhile when they wander into something that is less noble and less good (usually because they still have base desires, and over time they have rationalized achieving those desires for some noble means), it is very hard to convince them otherwise because they've built up such an idea of who they are and why they're doing what they're doing, and plus they are very intelligent, so all this mental power is invested in maintaining this identity, so the smarter the person (or corporation is), the worse it can end up when you eventually (and usually unintentionally) commit evil acts.