You know, we’ve written a while back about how Google stood up to the Chinese totalitarian government by refusing to turn over dissident information on demand, while other companies like Yahoo bent over and dropped their shorts, handing those kids over to decades-long prison terms without even a cough. I’ve sent out gmail invites to all my Yahoo contacts with just that info. Some switch, some don’t. With Google’s motto, “don’t be evil” and Screwhoo’s model of secret prisons, torture, and rewarding free speech with reporting on its members, you get two kinds that stick with Yahoo – the ignorant and the indifferent. Which are you?
But now Google’s doing it again. While other companies never peep a word about government hacking into mail accounts, Google blows the whistle and points out an ongoing pattern of hacking from Chinese government IPs. It’s doing this in the face of censorship demands that, so far, everyone has honored to some degree. Google’s now saying ‘enough is enough’, and we’ll pull out altogether (leaving you in the dustheap of information history – you farks) before we’ll cave. And in fact, they’ve stopped censoring results in China.
If we spent as much time studying the heroes of information ethics as we do heroes of ancient Greece, Google would be our Hercules. As a member of the Google nation, I feel more affinity with her than with my own body politic. More a part of her culture than the culture at large. What’s this got to do with work and the world of work?
Everything. Ethics is everything. Righteousness is everything. The world of work could use a healthy dose of righteousness. Not self-righteousness. Think Microsoft there. “We have done this, so we are entitled to what we want.” That’s entirely different. That’s the culture of expedience. But goodness, we need, for our work to be a font of joy, for it to be a primary vehicle of meaning, to be like Google. I meet people all the time who “love their jobs” and “find meaning” in them, but sometimes when they describe what they’re talking about, it seems to be the ability to afford Starbucks every morning, or eat $15 lunches, or to be thought of well in society. They’re not describing meaning or joy at all. They’re describing gratification and convenience, but not meaning and joy. And there is a distinctive difference.
I’m convinced that joy in one’s work comes partly from doing it well and partly from one’s work being a legitimate contribution to the wellness of the world. To wake up and work dishonestly cannot convey those things, regardless of the shifty guys that tell you they’re OK with it (that’s a commentary on their absence of the basic moral equipment, not a commentary on work). To wake up and contribute nothing, to neither lesson the agony of the world nor contribute to the mercy in it, cannot convey meaning. I don’t mean the cheesy substitutes of just making people feel good. Junk food makes people feel good. It also makes people obese, shortens their lives, and contributes to their suffering. And I don’t mean doing whatever for a corporation that “gives something back”. The fact that there’s an annual United Way drive or toys for tots walk or whatever, while good, aren’t the same thing. Nothing wrong with that – we’re just saying that the work itself should be a contribution too.
Work, for us to really feel it like we were meant to, like we’re built to, must shape the world into wellness through our day in and day out activity. The Christmas bonus doesn’t make a lousy job great, and the annual drive doesn’t grant the employees of an otherwise morally useless entity the kind of meaning in their work that they are designed for. To wake up and be a force for righteousness in the world, that’s a necessary path to the meaning derived from work. Substitutes need not apply.
Life is too brief to look back and ask why we’re clinging to something, to anything, if we can’t derive the primary experience from work that we’re meant for. If it’s just an income source, or just something to be endured, or if it’s about as subtle in its attempts to compensate as an oil company that gives a few thousand to rain forest funds, we’ve got to change directions, don’t We? Look at Google. That’s what heroes are for. They’re there to give the rest of us an icon of what we want to be like.
Have you told your kids about Google yet? I’m serious. Why not? I’m talking about what Google means in the world. Microsoft puts people into bankruptcy for treating the software someone buys like they own it. Google frees people from prison by protecting their files from torturers and totalitarian regimes. Who’s the best example?