Monday, July 12, 2010

Google Voice misgivings

A friend invited me to Google Voice a while back. I accepted the invitation because he's my friend, not because I felt I needed the service. Initially, I simply didn't see the point. Having thought about it, and having read David Pogue's enthusiastic overview, I understand better what purpose it serves and why it appeals to people. The gymnastics of "Call me at 111-111-1111 before 11, 222-222-2222 from 11 to 6, and 333-333-3333 after 6--unless I have to pick up Jimmy from soccer practice, which will mean you won't be able to reach me until 7 at the earliest" can be replaced by, "Call me at 555-555-5555," and magic will happen so you can take the call on whatever phone is handiest. As inventions go, I'd have to rank this just a notch or two below sliced bread: it's genius. (I don't believe it's Google's invention, either, although Google is likely the first not to charge customers for the service.)

On the other hand, it gives more of my life -- or at least the information therein -- to Google. That bothers me from a privacy standpoint: Google, and therefore the world, already know more about me than I would like. Moreover, adopting the service would place me even more deeply in thrall to the company. Every time Google simplifies access to and management of another sector of data in our lives, it does so by consolidating control of that data in its servers. Those servers used to hold merely our search queries; now they store our email, photographs, videos, spreadsheets, word-processing documents, and calendars. By positioning itself as a person's de facto personal data hub, Google is becoming as indispensable as the water or power provider. However, I don't know how to forage for my own water or to generate my own electricity; I do know how to manage my own data, and I take a certain pride in doing so. That attitude may turn out to be as anachronistic as clinging to the horse and buggy in the face of the automobile, but there it is.

So I remain ambivalent about Google Voice.

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