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
Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

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 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war