by Dean Whittaker

“500 Channels and Nothing On” by Bruce Springsteen describes the reason I read two books this month. Other than Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, my TIVO didn’t record a bit or byte. I would like to share my “take away” from each of these books and encourage you to pick them up on your next long flight or when you need to re-create what you are doing.

The Search

Have you ever dreamed of the “perfect search”? The folks at Google have. In his book, The Search, John Battelle tells the story of how Google and its rivals are changing our culture. The book describes the history of information retrieval on the internet.

He describes Google’s motto – “Don’t be Evil”–and their modest mission statement: “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” . John Battelle also notes the ethical dilemma created for Google when mainland China required Google to filter out websites unpleasant to mainland China ‘s government from its search results there.

He brings out the dramatic impact that Google is having on the nature of advertising as it shifts from a content-driven model to a very targeted relevance-advertising model. Content advertising is putting an ad in a magazine hoping the intended audience will see the ad while reading the publication’s contents. An example of relevance advertising would be having an ad relevant to your search appear next to your Google search results.

By monitoring the click stream of its users, Google knows what people want. Needless to say, this is very valuable information and perhaps explains why Google’s stock price recently exceeded $400 per share after opening at $85 following the recent Initial Public Offering.

The book is an easy read and I think you will find many useful insights in it.

When the Future Catches You

Another book I read this month was When the Future Catches You by Juan Enriquez. In it Dr. Enriquez discusses the impact technology is having on our society and some of the ethical issues the use of technology creates. He says, “The rules of an economy based on knowledge and networks are very different from those of a manufacturing-based economy.”

He talks about the bifurcation of our society based on what I would call “The Knows” and “The Know-nots.” The knowledge gap between the “knows” in the world and the “know-nots” is growing dramatically wider. Juan Enriquez offers a method to measure this knowledge gap using the number of patents produced in a country or community (This may be a little deceptive because ideas know no boundaries, as exemplified in the development of “open-source” software development efforts of networks of volunteers).

Juan explains that those locations that produce new knowledge will prosper and increase in importance. Education will become the key factor to being a participant in our knowledge-driven economy, and continuous innovation will be required to compete in the global marketplace. He then goes on to discuss the de-coding of the genome and the enormous impact this will have on our society. Medicine, for example, will become about prevention rather than treatment, using genetically-engineered plants whose produce provides gene therapy tailored to our genetic susceptibilities. The sheer volume of information flowing from the effort to understand what makes us who and what we are is creating a whole new industry – “bioinformatics.” In our cyclical world, I wonder if agriculture will become the factory of the future. Wouldn’t that be a hoot!