May 18, 2007 10:58 AM PDT

Google CEO talks new media politics

NEW YORK--During a keynote address at the 2007 Personal Democracy Forum Friday morning, Google CEO Eric Schmidt looked up at the crowd and said, "This looks like a Google meeting."

The reason, he said, was the abundance of open laptop screens, BlackBerrys and other gadgets among the audience. "At most Google meetings no one is actually looking at the speaker; they're all basically online," he said."Speaking as an older person, this bothers me, but I have given up."

This always-on nature of the Internet generation and its effect on the global political landscape was the focus of Schmidt's presentation, which was held in the form of a conversation with Thomas L. Friedman, a New York Times columnist and author of The World Is Flat.

"George Bush never could've been elected president if he'd been at Yale now and there'd been cell phone cameras around."
--Thomas L. Friedman, columnist

While the discussion ranged from the Thai government's ban on YouTube earlier this year to the widely circulated video of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards spending an arguably excessive amount of time having his hair blow-dried, there was a recurring focus on whether or not the "connected world" is necessarily a good thing. Google, with its mission to compile all kinds of information and make it accessible and searchable, has become an icon of that connectivity.

"The benefits of that empowerment are so overwhelming the concerns that everyone has, that it's a much better world as a result," Schmidt asserted confidently. But Friedman raised the oft talked about possibility that when the MySpace.com generation starts running for office, there will be a whole Internet full of political liabilities left over from their younger days.

"George Bush never could've been elected president if he'd been at Yale now and there'd been cell phone cameras around," Friedman said, alluding to the commander in chief's alleged college partying days.

Schmidt's answer was simple. "I have a societal proposal," he said. "I think that at the age of 21 it should be OK to change your name."

But more seriously, Schmidt said he believes the Internet is still young, and that people are still learning from current mistakes and incidents--job applications turned down as a result of salacious MySpace photos; employees fired when they say too much about their co-workers on their blogs; and former Virginia Sen. George Allen's reputation damaged as the result of a verbal gaffe at a campaign event that almost immediately wound up on YouTube.

"People are going to be much, much more careful," Schmidt said, "about living with a historical record." They'll also have to be aware that the cameras are everywhere. "People are always now in the media in some form," Schmidt explained. "Since everyone is carrying a mobile phone, and every mobile phone has a camera, everyone in the room has a camera. You're all digital agents of photography."

And with all this information, there's inevitably misinformation. "Voters will become much, much more unlikely to believe things that they read," Schmidt asserted, mentioning the phenomenon of Web sites devoted entirely to debunking online myths. "Education will change, and people at universities and ideally in high schools will be taught how to use the information revolution to confirm their biases."

Schmidt added, "You'll literally be taught how to search."

And if "Apple-gate"--the incident earlier this week in which a fake Apple internal memo posted on a blog caused the company's stock to tumble within minutes--is any indicator, the world might be due for that schooling.

See more CNET content tagged:
Eric Schmidt, columnist, George W. Bush, Google Inc., MySpace

5 comments

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Be careful? Nah.
They shouldn't be careful, they should start being honest, representative and above board.

Recording devices shouldn't scare politicians into censoring themselves, they should compel politicians to finally do what they were elected to do. Represent us and our best interests and make the city, state, country and world a better place.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
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the pols will become overly cautious
the danger here is that as we become a society of citizen-photojournalists, politicians will simply stop saying anything of value outside of their standard stump speeches and talking points.

of course some do this already, but this trend schmidt and friedman are talking about could seriously put a damper on what all pols feel they can say publicly.
Posted by socal_beachbum (2 comments )
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What? Be Responsible???
Maybe it is time people begin to realize that EVERY action has
consequences, and to be responsible. I don't WANT a politician
(or anyone else) who would look any different in front of the
press than they would appear on that camera phone. And, while
I realize that some amount of maturity and thinking through our
actions come with age... too many young people seem to want
no responsibility for what they do before 21... which just isn't
reality. Sorry, time for everyone to start taking a bit more
responsibility for their actions. If you are a good honest person,
this should be refreshing, not scary.
-Steve
Posted by stevew928--2008 (19 comments )
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everyone
I think it is something that can affect us all. I'm sure as someone snaps a photo of you and you joke that it's a blackmail photo and then they upload it somewhere it will be found. I'm also sure photos will be able to be indexed by person and you can "Google" yourself and see everything you've posted and find images of yourself or those who look like you and then no one has a job.
Posted by chuchucuhi (233 comments )
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Eric Schmidt is the biggest Mafia puppet in the US. He is bad news for apple users. http://endmafia.com
Posted by geo11101 (76 comments )
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