We can get as upset with Google as we like - we're not going anywhere

Google Reader - the aftermath.

It begins harmlessly enough. You're chatting to a friend, a neighbour perhaps, over the garden fence. Suddenly there is a huge crash from inside the house. Oh my god - the BABY! You go inside and immediately fall over a large pile of books. There are books everywhere - unsurprising, you realise, as all your bookshelves have mysteriously vanished. The floor is covered, and Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus along with the full EL James trilogy have migrated from behind your (unread) copy of "Wolf Hall" and are now displayed at the top of the pile.

There's a note. It says "We know your bookshelves had a devoted following who will be very sad to see them go. We're sad too. There are two simple reasons for this: usage of your bookshelves have declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience. Love from Google."

You look around and realise (with an element of disgust at the unimaginative cliche) that your house has in fact been built on sand.

You find a pencil and start a reply to the note.

I'm OUTRAGED at the change, and will be moving out with immedi...

But hang on. Where would you go? You've got nowhere to go. For several years now you've lived in this house. The thought of moving into a thin-walled shack, to Bing, or Yahoo, insulated with the paper torn from advert posters is horrible. No - you'll just have to suck it up. Head bowed, you find a plastic bag and start tidying up the books.

And here we go again. As I wrote about last week, Google reader is being killed off, and people are unhappy about it. They will no longer be able to trust Google, they say  - which will make it harder for Google to get them to use new features, like Keep, which it brought out yesterday.

As John Hempton says:

Google is in the process of abandoning its mission. Google's stated mission is to organize all the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. RSS is a way that a small number of us organize our information. Google no longer cares. It seems what they care about is mass-markets...

According to him, this is Google's problem: it makes financial sense for Google not to have Reader. After all, Reader doesn't make money or create opportunities to make money. However, the move to abandon Reader is itself financially risky. It will affect how willing Google consumers are to adopt new features.

Here's the Economist:

The more people used Reader, the more attractive it was to have an RSS feed and to write posts in feed-friendly ways. And the more people provided RSS content and structured online interactions around the blogs that pass through RSS, the more attractive it became to be a part of that ecosystem. If you then pull away the product at the heart of that system, you end up causing significant disruption, assuming there aren't good alternatives available

The trouble is that there aren't good alternatives - not to Google as a whole. As I wrote back in Feburary, Facebook, Twitter and Google are all at various stages of the tipping point between user-orientated and profit-orientated, and every so often, users realise what is happening and get upset about it. But the reason the companies are doing this is because they can. We're probably not going anywhere.

Google Reader is closing down. Photograph: Getty Images
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I'd only given a literary talk, but someone still told me to leave the country

“So if you don’t like it so much,” he says, “why don’t you leave?” And his tone suggests that there is a good train leaving from St Pancras in half an hour.

So here I am at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square. Eventually. After a misunderstanding that finds me first, forlorn and bemused, at Olympia, with the London Book Fair closing down for the evening, watching my fee grow wings and fly away into the night air. I am called up and told where I could more profitably go instead – that is to say, the venue I should be at. On reassurance that my expenses will be met, I hop into a cab as soon as I find one (which, on Kensington High Street at 7pm, takes far longer than you would think. I will not use Uber).

I am going there in order to be on a panel that is talking about Benjamin Fondane (1898-1944), the Romanian intellectual, poet, essayist, philosopher and all-round dude. I know nothing about the guy beyond what I learned from reviewing a selection of his writings last July but this makes me, apparently, one of this country’s leading experts on him. Such is the level of intellectual curiosity in this part of the world. Fondane was treated much better in Paris, where he moved after finding studying law in Bucharest too boring; treated very much worse in 1944, when he was sent to Auschwitz.

A little corner of me is panicking a bit before the gig starts: I know next to nothing about the man, especially compared to my co-panellists, and I might betray this to the audience of around 80 (I refer to their number, not their age), sitting in their little gilt chairs, in a nice gilt drawing room, which is par for the course for European cultural institutes in this neck of the woods.

Another part of me says: “Don’t be silly, you’ll be fine,” and it turns out I am. I even manage to throw in a few jokes. During the course of one of my answers I say that the UK is a cultural desert and that there was a reason Fondane stopped moving when he got to Paris. The idea of coming to London to breathe the pure air of artistic freedom and inspiration was, and remains, laughable. It gets a chuckle or two out of the (mostly Mittel-European) audience, who like a bit of British self-deprecation as much as we do.

Or do we? Downstairs, and clutching my first glass of the evening (a perfectly drinkable Romanian Merlot), I chat to various people who come up and say they like my reviews etc, etc. All very pleasant. And then a man comes up to me, about my age, maybe a year or three younger, smartly tweeded.

“I was very offended by what you said about this country being a cultural desert,” he says. He is not joking.

“Oh?” I say. “Well, it is.”

He has the look of someone about to come up with a devastating argument.

“What about Shakespeare?” he asks me. “What about Oscar Wilde?”

“They’re dead,” I say, leaving aside the fact that Wilde was Irish, and that anywhere was better than Ireland in the 19th century for gay playwrights.

“So’s Fondane,” he says.

I think at this point I might have raised my glasses and massaged the bridge of my nose with finger and thumb, a sign for those who know me of extreme exasperation, and a precursor to verbal violence.

“So if you don’t like it so much,” he says, “why don’t you leave?” And his tone suggests that there is a good train leaving from St Pancras in half an hour.

“Do not presume to tell me, sir, whether I should leave the country.”

He tells me he has a Polish wife, as if that has any bearing on the matter. He says something else, which for the life of me I can’t remember, but I do know that when I replied to it, I used only one word, and that the word was “bollocks”.

“Well, if you’re going to use bad language . . .”

“I’ve got more,” I say, and proceed to launch a volley of it at him. Things have escalated quickly, I know, but there is no jest in his tone and what I am detecting is, I realise, his strong awareness of the Z in my name, my nose, and my flawless olive complexion. One develops antennae for this kind of thing, after almost half a century. And there’s a lot more of it about these days.

In the end, I become pretty much incoherent. On stage I’d caught myself thinking: “Golly, talking is even easier than writing;” but now my fluency deserts me. But God, it’s fun getting into a fight like this.

I’ve left my tobacco at home but the Romanian government gives me a whole pack of Marlboro Gold, and more wine. Vata-n libertate ori moarte! As they say. You can work it out. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution