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Why we welcome Google as Big Brother

George Orwell’s vision of a surveillance society, laid out in his classic “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” is coming true.

But the surveillance isn’t coming from government — it’s coming from social media companies. And it isn’t being imposed on a helpless populace — it’s being welcomed by a society that in less than a generation has become completely addicted to digital communication.

I’m not being alarmist or paranoid about this topic, merely pointing out facts.

•Fact: If you use a smartphone, your service provider and the maker of your phone have a record of your whereabouts at all times — or, at least, the whereabouts of your phone.

•Fact: If you’re on Facebook, you’re allowing it to collect huge amounts of information about you, which Facebook uses to create ads and offers based on what it knows about you — and about your friends.

•Fact: Google, fearing that it’s losing ground to Facebook in the social-media revolution, is set to begin collecting and integrating information on you based on every Google service you use: Google calendars, Google documents, Gmail, Google searches, Android phones and more.

Google’s new initiative, just announced, is more of an ultimatum than an offer. You don’t have a choice of opting out. If you don’t want Google to know and use every bit of information about you, your only choice is to stop using Google services

Google, Facebook and others offer these services in the hope of making your life more convenient — and the hope that they can make money by doing so.

Google’s dream

The dream of Google and the others is to lubricate your journey through life, easing you along by virtue of their entrée to every action you take, every friend you interact with and every opinion you express in a digital forum.

In the new paradigm, you might get a friendly reminder on your Android phone from your Google calendar that you’re late for that 10:30 meeting in Eagan. Knowing that yesterday you sent your spouse an email via your Gmail account about buying a new sweater, you might get a coupon for 30 percent off from a clothing store located on the route that Google Maps suggests you take to the meeting. Later you’ll get an offer from a Mexican restaurant, because Google knows that one of your colleagues who’s going to be in the meeting did an Internet search on that topic the other day.

Our addiction

We’re addicted to the digital world. Do you doubt it? Just look around in any public place and see how many people are peering intently at a screen, whether on a phone, a laptop or a tablet.

The keepers of what used to be quaintly called “the information superhighway” know about our addiction. And, like any good pusher, they know how to extract more and more from us in return for providing what we crave.

So now Google has issued an ultimatum: Give up your privacy or you’re cut off. I predict that few will reject it. And can you blame them? Life in this country without Google and the services it provides would be slower, more expensive and more isolating for anyone who chose to go that route. For example, my clients often ask me to create a Google document so everyone on a project can share information. Can I really say “no” because I’m taking a stand against Google’s new privacy policy?

Nineteen Eighty-Four is here, all right. But it’s not the product of a repressive central government. It’s the outcome of a digital revolution that enables us to gorge on information like a starving man at an all-you-can eat buffet.

And we have no desire to walk away hungry.

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