A cloud is moving toward Europe. It carries with it the thunderous, electrical, (digitized?) calling card of storm-fronted majesty, raining in streams of zeros and ones, boisterous, anarchical, bellowing the dirges of Europe’s heyday, reeking of Yankee imposition, a new brand of manifest destiny wearing a name tag pregnant with the usual oddity of foreign names-a name that gurgles from it foghorn style as it moves across the sea-Gooooooo-gle!
Was that a tad dramatic? Judging from France and the EU, it may be an accurate description of how they feel about it.
When Google announced a 10-year, $200 million plan to digitize the literary world, invoking the assistance of Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, Michigan University, and the New York Public Library, France’s National Library president Jean-Noel Jeanneney spun around in his chair and called up President Chirac.
In protest to what the French press soon called “omnigooglization,” and what Jeanneney called a decidedly “Anglo-Saxon” affront, the national librarian wrote a scathing letter to Chirac. In the letter, though he didn’t condemn the effort, Jeanneney voiced his fear of what that meant for the representation of France and Europe.
Here are some excerpts from the letter published in Le Monde:
“The real issue is elsewhere. And it is immense. It is confirmation of the risk of a crushing American domination in the definition of how future generations conceive the world.”
“[T]heir criteria for selection will be profoundly marked by the Anglo-Saxon outlook.”
“It would have meant The Scarlet Pimpernel triumphing over Ninety-three (Victor Hugo’s eulogistic account of the revolution).”
Motivated by the fear that French and other European languages, ideas, and cultural heritages would be lost or obscured in an Anglo-Saxon digitized library, the whole of the EU, except for, of course, Anglo-Saxon Britain, met to begin efforts to create a European online library.
The national libraries of 19 countries committed to the mammoth project of digitizing 4.5 billion pages of text, including Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.
Luxembourg P.M., Jean-Claude Juncker seemed especially incensed, saying, “…Europe must not submit in the face of virulent attacks from others.”
As I am writing this, I realize that it is difficult to decide how to react to such claims. Nineteen whole countries mobilized against an American search engine?
At first, it’s laughable. And then, angering. And then laughable again.
At the very least, from an American perspective, it is hard to understand. You can barely quiet the giant “so what?” boulder ping-ponging though your skull long enough process it. Could they really be that threatened by a research tool living in some abstract realm of space?
French feelings of insecurity are nothing new. They have feared intrusion of American culture for years. There are a number of laws regarding public use of language-guarding against the use of “Franglais,” or English-French mutations. The word “cheeseburger” was vilified, and there is a law that at least 40% of radio content must be in French.
Add that to a famous Internet prank, where a Canadian student googlebombed the “I’m Feeling Lucky” feature of Google to the end that when a user typed in “French military victories,” a page turns up finding no examples and asking, “Did you mean ‘French military defeats?'”
But truthfully, this goes beyond America’s love-hate relationship with France. It seems the entire world is forming a love-hate relationship with America.
Take, for example, the musings of Canadian writer, Robin Matthews. Though he recognizes the appeal of US culture, the “dazzle, the variety, the abundance, and the vigor,” he goes on to call it an “invading culture” comparable to the Nazis, and those who buy into it, “collaborators.”
About the Author:
Jason L. Miller is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.