For my latest audiobook listen I decided to have a spot of non-fiction, so I downloaded In the Plex by Steven Levy, which looks at the history of Google from it’s foundation to present day. It certainly was interesting and since listening to the book, whenever I type a search query into Google or use one of their other products I have a new found appreciation and understanding of what I’m using.
It was also interesting in that not only was In the Plex a history of Google, it was also to a certain extent at least part a history of the internet, as many companies that grew up alongside the internet were also featured in the book and it certainly made me feel old as I just about remember those early days of the internet (following my then computer studies boyfriend aka Mr. Lacer around campus into the computer labs to watch him communicate with other people via text prompts, how it’s changed). I remember how not particularly helpful early search engines were, they cited an example in the book about how if you typed in university into a search engine the top result would be somewhere completely obscure and I now understand what makes Google’s results relevant.
It was interesting listening to how Google was effectively founded out of a campus dorm room, with server racks built out of Lego bricks and rubbish computers begged off various sources. And how that small group of people grew into the giant company it is today, trying desperately to hold onto it’s small start-up principles.
It was an interesting lesson in what happens when you have persistence, self belief, economy and a deep trust in science and mathematics, although that deep trust in the latter sometimes got them into trouble as the company got bigger and they encountered the fury from privacy campaigners or they just did not get what was so big about social media, there was definitely a certain naivety about them.
I thought the section on China was particularly interesting, it seemed an unfortunately doom laden story from the start.
All in all, despite a little bit of apprehension at the start about whether I’d ‘get into’ a book about an internet company, I’m really glad I read it, I think it can be important to know more about the products that you use every day. I think I’ll be adding Steven Job’s biography to my to read / to listen list as well, as I certainly look forward to seeing what both companies come up with next.