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Google, Rome, Empire

History is worth studying (duh). But I fear that even when we do study it, humanity is wired in such a manner as to relive its errors. Ironically, the lessons of history seem to have more merit when they are history. War, political action, and human rights movements offer historians a podium from which to declare how events from one, two, or even three thousand years ago can provide guidance to today’s most prominent concerns. Those voices are too often ignore. “Now” has a level of arrogance attached to it. It’s different. It’s our generation. It’s “now”.
In an analogy-pushing article – Google, Rome, and Empire – the author argues that similarities exist between Romes development of roads and what Google is trying to do with Chrome OS (read the comments in the article – they challenge many of the assertions made by the author).
I’m less interested in the specific declarations of how Chrome OS may or may not serve as the internet’s infrastructure in the future, than I am in the value of applying history’s lesson to the digital world. Is the internet a “new world”? Or is it simply an overhyped-extension of the physical world? Do different rules apply? Is it “conquered” according to the military strategies of centuries past?


  1. Lisa M Lane wrote:

    I gotta comment as a historian. The analogy between Rome and Google is a new analogy only. As with all efforts to tie “history” to current events, the author picked and chose from the Roman Empire and made comparisons. The link between them is actually the collection of analogies developed by the business world, in comparing economic empires to military empires. In many ways such analogies don’t fit at all, but they give us deeper understanding via the creation of the analogies themselves — some aspects will overlap, and those that do provide insight. This is why history seems to repeat itself, because there are always just enough differences for people to claim this is a new situation and thus earlier similar events don’t apply (as you noted). Similarly, the “lessons” only reside in the analogies — history doesn’t actually repeat itself, because there is always more than one lesson tied to the same event or era.

    In terms of the internet itself, I’m afraid I’m old-fashioned and consider it as an extension of communication rather than a “new world”. Communication technologies have been changing over time, and each one seems to expand the connections between individuals, and provides a more accessible array of resources. The “goodness” that results from this may be what’s overhyped.


    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink
  2. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Lisa – I was thinking of some of your comments in CCK08 when I read the article…wondering what a historian would say about the analysis!

    Great comment: “Similarly, the “lessons” only reside in the analogies — history doesn’t actually repeat itself, because there is always more than one lesson tied to the same event or era.”

    In terms of the internet – I’m moving in a different direction with my thinking than you are. I think it’s developing into another space, not simply an extension of communication. As data overlay and augmented reality develop, this will become more prominent.

    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink
  3. Lisa M Lane wrote:

    Hi! George, please don’t get me wrong — I don’t think of an extension of communication in terms of “merely”. Rather, extending communication is one of the most crucial of global human activities! It is the source of most human creativity, and peaceful mutual understanding cannot exist without extensive contacts. I only differ where people claim that such extension is a guaranteed “good”, that peaceful and productive relations will automatically result. I understand the idea of it being a space, but in many ways all intellectual communicative endeavor is also a space, such as that enabled by trade, ideological spread, and the sharing of resources over millenia.

    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 8:02 pm | Permalink