Monday, March 25, 2013

The impermanence of all things Google ( or why I learned to stop worrying and love Google Keep)

A central tenet of Buddhism is that suffering is caused by a failure or inability to accept the impermanence of all things. Listening to the chatter in the blogosphere this week, it seems that there are not many buddhist technology bloggers. On the back of Google's decision to close Google Reader, many people have been quick to attack Google Keep. Om Malik , a blogger who I follow regularly was extremely quick to jump on the Keep-bashing band wagon and he made justifiable points for  doing so. I have a different point of view. Om argues from the point of view of someone who pays for Google services but I (and the schools I work for) have never paid to use Google products. I am also fully aware that when you don't pay, you are not the customer, you are the product. It just so happens that you are a product who can leverage the situation for educational benefit.
So what do I think of Evernote vs Google Keep? Firstly, I am a huge Evernote fan and use it regularly but mostly for personal organisation. I use it a little  for  keeping  track of student research but the ability to only view their notes is a little  limiting as a teacher. This week I have used Google Keep during lesson observations and also staff interviews. It serves the same purpose as Evernote but I am really enjoying the simplicity of  it. It has reasonable sharing options through the android app and I can access everything easily when I need it. I am finding it very useful as a simple text processor (although Docs would do  the same). My real interest in Google Keep comes with a  bit of crystal ball  gazing. This product will develop and it is only a matter of time before it gets the full apps treatment. Imagine it being fully integrated as a  Google apps product where you can  share a note with all students at the start of the lesson. The opportunity for collaboration within the Google apps framework could blow Evernote out of the  water.

A few final thoughts
Should we be using Google products in schools when they can shut them down in the drop of a hat? In a word, yes. Google products have enhanced learning for my students in ways that are easy, quick and unimaginable with the best paid-for products without costing a cent. If Google shuts down a product, so what. I will find something else that does the same job. It is no different to the problem that schools encounter when that key person who knew how to use your expensive VLE leaves the school. Even expensive hardware products like  iphones stop being supported by the company that made them when they decide not to support that OS any more. I fully accept that Google owes me nothing and I will use their products with this in mind.
Om Malik argues that he prefers to use products that focus on what they do, e.g. Evernote focus on notes. This doesn't always make a better product. Post it are focused on making notes. If you haven't used them before, they are little yellow bits of paper that you can write on that have an adhesive to stick to surfaces. The glue is completely unfit for purpose. I have lost countless bits of data through the poor design of these notes. The only syncing options are copying onto another note or photocopying. Luckily the type of data I write on these notes does not cause many problems when lost. I guess, its the same kind of data I will put on Google Keep, so if Google shut it down I will just accept that it is the  impermanence of all things Google, move on and minimise my  suffering.

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Ha,ha, sounds like a good way to keep stress out of your life in a ever changing digital world.

"Luckily the type of data I write on these notes does not cause many problems when lost. I guess, its the same kind of data I will put on Google Keep"

If Google Keep is to one day be deprecated and removed, you'll probably have a few months warning to transfer your notes. You don't get this advantage with Post It notes!

Play along with me....

Since you introduce the idea of Buddhism, it may be worth considering that most of the world is Christian, while Buddhists only are a small percentage (check NPR's review of world religions and big/small they are).

With that Christian worldview in mind and how our beliefs color that perspective, it's easy to see that everything "of the world" is temporary. One of the desires though is to make heaven on earth, to imbue our lives with the permanence from the heavens. Unfortunately, the idea of building on impermanence is problematic. Consider the idea of "building on shifting sands." In Matthew 7:26, "And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand."

Who wants to build his house on sand, knowing it will be washed away or fall apart? The same with Google Keep. If I'd known ahead of time that Google was going to dump a perfectly good and working resources--like Google Reader, Notebook, PicasaWeb--would I have depended on them? Worse, Google Reader beat out Bloglines, another tool that did the same.

The fear is that Google Keep will sink Evernote and we'll all be left holding the bag when Google decides to move on. Google's actions have been a wake-up call...Google is in this for themselves, and if their actions inconvenience users, that's OK. Harold Jarche put it quite well and I quote him in my blog entry, "Living Like a Nomad:"

Harold makes this point:

"At this stage I am more inclined to find paid services than free ones. As they say on the web, if you’re not paying for it, you are the product. "

I'm not a Buddhist, and I appreciate the impermanence of everything we do. In a thousand years, this won't matter. However, these actions teach us valuable lessons and help us develop insight into what we should do when confronted with other's actions.

My lesson or take-away is that if I pay for a service, I'm hopeful of having more control over it than depending on Google's goodwill. So, I've invested in Evernote, in (as an alternative to PicasaWeb), etc.

Living like a nomad,
Miguel Guhlin

If you pay, you're still the product. Makes no difference.

The only real freedom can be found in open source. Everything else makes you the product, regardless of how much you pay.

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