THE FIRST TIME I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2008, I had an appointment with Google. Its stand in Hall Eight was a shiny white pod with no retractable banners or cheap shelving in sight. The pod made a perfect background for the primary colours of Google’s then-serif logo set out on its outer shell. Hall Eight was the English-language hall, though perhaps there were replica Google pods in all the other halls; they felt, even then, omnipresent. At our meeting inside the pod I remember talking about the Google Preview function, of which NewSouth Publishing, my employer then and now, was an early adopter. Analogue babes in the digital woods, my colleague Nella Soeterboek and I also discussed the Google Books Library Project, about which we were far more ambivalent. That Google wanted to digitise every book ever published didn’t seem like a utopian vision to us. It was more of a statement of intent, the intent being to take over the world.
Meeting done, I stepped out of the pod with my free Google-branded USB stick and an invitation to arrange a follow-up meeting with a software engineer in case ‘I had any coding questions’. If this sounds now like a euphemism for something else, it did then too. The engineer’s name was Avi, and he seemed more like a Bollywood film star than an emerging Silicon Valley IT genius. He may have been both. If I were casting someone whose job was to appeal to women in publishing with no coding knowledge, he would have won the part.
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