Google’s iGoogle Showcase was revealed earlier this week, allowing everyone on the whole Internet to look at the homepages personally approved by the publicists of celebrities.
With iGoogle Showcase anyone can take a look at the widgets and plugins that barely likeable celebrities like Al Gore, Demi Moore, Ashton The Kutch Kutcher, Martha Stewart, Ryan Seacreast, and others use on their Google homepages.
Mind you, use should be taken very lightly here.
At first I wasn’t sure what the purpose of showcase was. Then later on I figured something out: I still had no idea know what the point of iGoogle Showcase was. To be honest as of this exact moment I cannot clearly discern any sort of useful purpose for Showcase.
The thing is, there isn’t any obvious use for Showcase. Unlike some of Google’s other neat apps, like Gmail and Google Docs and SketchUp, which are all immediately useful in some ways, Showcase doesn’t provide us with any sort of tools or devices that make things possible. It doesn’t even provide something as vague as an e-solution.
Let me explain. Each Showcase page is ostensibly the personal page of a celebrity, implying that the widgets on it were chosen by a celebrity. That these pages are personal also implies that celebrities make use of them regularly, but that seems unlikely, given how they look like they were designed by a soulless robot programmed to mechanically coordinate PR initiatives.
Are we really supposed to believe that Kevin Rose has a Digg widget on his homepage, even though he owns the freaking website, or that Ryan Seacrest looks up American Idol updates, even though he is literally the first person on the planet to know when someone is voted off? That would be like Wyclef Jean looking for updates about the new album that he himself is writing.
Oh wait, that is already on his iGoogle page.
So are these actually the personal pages of celebrities? Of course not. The fact of the matter is that Showcase doesn’t have any point because it is just marketing. Each page is a thin veil of celebrity publicity, crafted to reinforce a consistent public image while covering some pretty clumsy marketing. Andy Roddick is a tennis player, so his page has a tennis ball. Rachel Ray’s page has a word scramble, because absolutely all stay-at-home moms in the universe like little daily newspaper puzzles. Al Gore’s page has Jon Stewart quotes because the hip, young, liberal demographic is into that.
The only page that looks like it wasn’t pieced together by an army of assistants is The Kutch’s. I mock the guy, but his page is a messy jumble of stuff that real people would actually use, like sports scores and dumb youtube cartoons, instead of a Punk’d widget and a picture of a trucker hat. But other than the Kutchster’s, every page is so generically representative of the public’s view of these celebrities that you can’t help but feel an advertising firm thought it all up while Keith Urban or whoever played golf on the moon while rolling in million dollar bills in a suit made of even more million dollar bills.
So iGoogle Showcase is basically just a cross-promotional marketing tool. That’s fine, and marketing has it’s place. Maybe someone will find a widget they like from the page of their favourite celebrity, or discover some news about someone they’re interested in. But let’s not pretend that these are actually the homepages these celebrities customized and use every day. The sites are such flimsy, cookie-cutter representations of the celebrities’ public images that insisting they are personal is only contrived and artificial.
So why even talk about Showcase if it’s so shallow and pointless? I will make a feeble attempt at answering this question. It seems to me that iGoogle Showcase is representative of a larger trend in which technology is suddenly very cool. Some might even call it hip if they are so inclined.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point tech and tech-culture went from being simply a useful thing for some and a geeky obsession for others, to the prime way for celebrities and public figures to garner some cred with fans. Between The Kutchinator running a competition with CNN to see who could reach a million twitter followers first, and news sites and blogs all over the web obsessing over whether or not Obama is a Mac user, you can’t seem to avoid the new-found trendiness of technology.
Even late night, normally a safe haven where fads and trends are mocked mercilessly, has gotten in on the act. If you can manage to stomach an entire episode of the Jimmy Fallon show you will be exposed to an incredible amount of shameless pandering to the technology crowd, and even Conan O’Brien, who I distinctly remember mispronouncing modem during an old episode, has a skit about twitter every night.
Some of this new focus on technology is obviously very good. Obama’s change.gov site, with its technological agenda, is leap years ahead of the technologically ignorant stone-age that was the last administration.
But I imagine not everyone will see it this way. It’s probably safe to say that many people out there hold a personal attachment to the nerd culture of technology, and many of those people understandably feel as if Hollywood is merely cashing in on their beloved sub-culture. Like someone who suddenly sees their favourite band go mainstream and finds that the music that meant so much to them on a personal level is now being eaten up by everyone in the world, geeks the world over feel violated by the commodification and abuse of their geek and tech culture by celebrities who are merely using it to get a bit more publicity.
The angst of geeks who are caught up in the new Hollywood obsession with their world was summed up pretty nicely in the response to the I Am a Geek video, released last month. Wil Wheaton, star of Star Trek TNG and famous hardcore nerd, was involved with the video and said of it that it seemed like a promotional opportunity for celebrities who don’t know a damn thing about our geek culture, which sums up nicely how most geeks feel about the new found celebrity status of geekiness.
In short, the sorts of celebrities that are featured on the iGoogle Showcase are the exact ones that nerds are shaking their fists at right now, damning them for invading their castle and abusing their culture.
I tend to look at it a bit differently though: being a geek is suddenly cool. Not just cool among an ever-growing population of geeks, but cool among people with a lot of sway, geeky or not. Further, geekiness is not just cool, but influential. Geekiness has become powerful.
I guess that “The Bible” thing was right; the geek shall indeed inherit the Earth.
(I apologize profoundly for that joke. Please don’t melt my computer with your nerd powers.)