Darfur, Sudan, spring of 2007. Civil war has been devastating the land for 4 years; citizens keep dying and leaving their homes. Despair reigns. But rest assured, Sudanese people: Google is here to save you! Google Earth, free software that helps you find your home on the digital 3D model of Earth, launches “Crisis in Darfur” project. It will expose the world to all the most terrifying pictures of starving black kids and stories from the war victims. Everyone will get shocked, Americans will donate dollars, someone will do something and everything will be OK again. Sounds promising, but at least two women are left unsatisfied: Lisa Parks and Naomi Klein both have something to tell us about Google`s intentions.
Lisa reasonably complains that Google would better provide some recent HD satellite imagery of the site rather than just exposing pictures of death and devastation which “should have been intervened” (Parks, 2009, para. 22). Unlike pictures of starving kids, more reliable imagery could actually be helpful in predicting villages that can be attacked next and hence preventing the attack. Google`s executives, being smart by definition, apparently realize that but still prefer scary pictures. The reason is that an average person is more interested in viewing shocking photos rather than analyzing boring maps (compare revenues of horror/action moviesvs. documentaries). It means that scary pictures return more user traffic than new expensive maps, therefore further promoting the brand of Google, which appears on every piece of data throughout the project (Parks, 2009). Interestingly, Amnesty International, within a related “All eyes on Darfur project”, did invest into new satellite images of Darfur and helpful software that analyzes them. But, compared to Google`s project, the traffic was very small, and Amnesty International didn`t receive “nearly as much publicity as Crisis in Darfur” (Parks, 2009, para. 22). Google got profit without actually helping, and everyone started to love it even more for being so “generous and caring”.
Naomi`s claim is even more global. According to her book, “the Shock Doctrine”, corporations make money by forcing nation-wide disasters to receive as much publicity as possible. Typical scenario: tsunami destroys half of Thailand, NGO offers money to the help but requires that coastal areas are being privatized for tourism; desperate Thailand government is forced, by need, to accept the deal. Consequently, a number of hotels is built where previously Thai people lived, and CEO of NGO has one more gorgeous resort to spend summer. For Thailand, the Gross National Product is reduced and people have no place to live. Such subtle colonization is called the “Disaster Capitalism” (Klein, 2005). Sometimes privatized objects are as vital as country`s electricity sector or oil deposits. Drawing public attention to the disaster is crucial because it helps NGOs to keep their dirty deeds unnoticed: “Tsunami killed that little boy, why would I care about some privativization?!” Similarly, Google might want to make people aware of dying kids in Darfur because some Google`s fellow NGO wants to privatize its land. But the theory about promoting the brand makes more sense to me because there is not much to privatize in Sudan.
If I were Google, I would find a way to draw public attention to the “Disaster Capitalism” itself. Everyone will be talking about a Google Earth layer that shows all the huge villas and hotels build where people used to live before tsunami, or images of American oil rigs build next to the devastated villages. Not only will Google make money out of the immense traffic on their branded maps, but also both Lisa and Naomi will rest satisfied. Explicit RickRoll.
Klein, N., 2005, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
Parks, L., 2009, Digging into Google Earth: An analysis of “Crisis in Darfur”.