Other segments from the episode on October 14, 2003
DATE October 14, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Aaron McGruder discusses his syndicated comic strip The
Boondocks, his newest collection of strips and television and
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Aaron McGruder, writes and draws the syndicated comic strip The
Boondocks. This year Rolling Stone described him as one of the five young
political cartoonists bringing the noise of dissent to America. The Boondocks
has been controversial in some newspapers because McGruder takes on issues
pertaining to race, politics and pop culture. The strip is carried daily in
350 newspapers. McGruder is now working on a TV series and a movie based on
his Boondocks characters, and he has a new collection of his strips called "A
Right to be Hostile."
The Boondocks is about two brothers who have moved with their grandfather from
an inner-city neighborhood to a largely white suburb. The older brother, Huey
Freeman, named after the Black Panther Huey P. Newton, is something of a
political and social critic, even though he's still a pre-teener. His younger
brother, Riley, wants to have the thug look like the rappers and action heroes
he emulates, but he worries he might be too cute to look tough.
McGruder is critical of pop culture's focus on the thug life. He thinks
African-American pop culture, rap in particular, has gotten stuck and has
Mr. AARON McGRUDER (The Boondocks): When gangsta rap started, there was more
balance, you know, in the early '90s, very late '80s, early '90s when it first
came out and got popular. There was a bunch of different type of hip-hop
music that was out. And it's not that, you know, gangsta rap in and of itself
is this horrible thing. It's just when you're inundated with it and kids are
inundated with it non-stop and there's really not a lot of alternatives that
are presented to them, it becomes slightly problematic, you know, not just for
the idea of content and what it's saying as much as just the idea that, you
know, we have really become--black people have sort of lost our creativity,
which, you know, we're kind of known for and we basically pride ourselves for.
It's basically gone away, and that to me is a greater concern than just the
content issues and the violence and misogyny and all that stuff.
GROSS: Well, this is a theme that you kind of cover a lot in Boondocks. I
mean, in one strip, a character says, `In the past 10 years, we've seen the
near total disintegration of black political and social leadership. That
means the single largest influence on black America's self-image is popular
culture, music, TV and films. To assure the ongoing mental enslavement of the
black man, black TV and films must remain racially degrading, intellectually
insulting and creatively stagnant.' Now of course, that's the kind of
conspiracy version of what you're saying.
Mr. McGRUDER: Right. Right. Yeah. You know, I'm not sure if there's, you
know, three or four guys in a room planning all this out, but nevertheless, I
think, you know, we're doing pretty bad right now, and you know, it does
bother me, because it is true that there really is no social or political
leadership, and so all of this stuff, even though it's just entertainment,
does take on a greater importance, particularly in black communities. You
know, a lot of white people are into hip-hop, but they don't actually see
themselves on the screen. They are living sort of vicarious black male hero
fantasies, and they grow up and they go to college, and they get jobs and they
grow out of it.
But I'm much more concerned about young black kids who really see this as,
`Oh, that's me and this is what, you know, my life plan holds,' to be a thug
and to, you know, to do all this silly stuff they see on videos, which is
just, you know, basically not true, which is the other problem with gangsta
rap, which is its one sort of redeeming argument was that it's telling some
sort of true tale from the streets, and it's just basically not true in most
cases. Most of these rappers aren't living these lives. Many of them have
never lived those lives, and if they had, they're certainly not living them
now as musicians. So, you know, it doesn't even really have that to stand on.
You know, in the early '90s, you know, it was at least, I think, slightly
GROSS: Let's get back to The Boondocks. The two main characters, the
brothers Huey and Riley, have moved to the suburbs with their grandfather.
And why did you have the two boys being brought up by their grandfather?
Mr. McGRUDER: The boys are brought up by their grandfather because I thought
if they were brought up by their parents, the parents would be a little too
hands-on. And having, you know, the grandfather whose attitude is, you know,
`Well, now that I've gotten you into a nice neighborhood, you know, you have
nothing to worry about and I can just watch television all day.' It was meant
to sort of allow the boys to sort of have to, you know, encounter the
neighborhood on their own with not as much sort of parental supervision or
oversight than they would have if their parents were actually there.
GROSS: I want to ask you about the first strip that's featured in your new
collection of The Boondocks.
Mr. McGRUDER: Well, it was the first strip that ran.
GROSS: Oh, it was the very first strip that ran? OK.
Mr. McGRUDER: Yeah.
GROSS: So, it's the two brothers, they've just moved to the suburb, and the
older brother, Huey, is saying to the younger kid, `Well, you know, we're not
on the hard streets of the Chicago South Side anymore.' And the younger kid,
Riley, the kind of kid who wants to really be a thug, he's saying, `Yeah, and
that means I'm the hardest, baddest thing for miles and I can run amok here
without fear.' So, you know, to the young kid, it's just an opportunity to,
like, look tough and to assume that the other kids in the neighborhood are
going to think he's tough. What are some of the things that you were drawing
on in thinking about that strip?
Mr. McGRUDER: You know, the strip you're talking about is the idea that, you
know, there's a certain lack of understanding here with--first of all, Huey
and Riley, being so different, often fail to communicate effectively, even
when they're talking to each other. But, you know, in particular, Riley is
looking at the new neighborhood from a sort of gangster mentality, which
means, `Oh, everyone here is soft and it's an opportunity for me to sort of,
you know, come in and take over the place.'
You know, most of gangsta rap culture comes from Scorsese movies or, you know,
"Scarface" or "Godfather," or "Casino," "GoodFellas." And so there's this
sort of, you know, larger-than-life attitude as though, you know, any of these
people could do something like that, or be "Scarface" or be Robert De Niro in
"GoodFellas" in real life, which, of course, they can't. It's part of what
the critique of gangsta rap is about, which is, you know, you're not Cuban,
you're not Colombian; you know, you're black and you live, you know, in a poor
neighborhood and you sell drugs on the corner. You're not a mob boss; you're
not a don, and you know, most of you probably have never even sold drugs on
But it's a fantasy that was created by white America, and white America did
such a wonderful job romanticizing the mob that they then turn around and be
surprised when young black America emulates that. You know, we watch the same
movies everyone else does, and we like the same actors as everyone else does,
and we like the same directors as everyone else does. Only, you know, so many
of us live harder lives that the idea of the sort of dashing criminal is much
more appealing to try to act out in real life than it would be to white
America that has many other opportunities.
GROSS: I know what you're saying about that. On the other hand, like, before
the Scorsese movies, there were movies like "Superfly" that, you know, also
had that real, like, gangster image and a lot of, like, guns and drugs and
Mr. McGRUDER: But there was a difference.
Mr. McGRUDER: Yes, I mean, the blaxploitation era is--I think we see
elements of that. I mean, but there was a difference which is, you know, the
blaxploitation era had heroes. I mean, Shaft was a good guy. Coffy
Brown--you know, the Pam Grier movies.
Mr. McGRUDER: Yeah, there were bad guys and there were good guys, and there
was also a very sort of political sort of pro-black, you know, slant to a lot
of it as well. Yeah, I mean, there were a lot of pimps and there was
Dolomite, but even someone like Dolomite was, in a lot of ways, a sort of
hero. You know, it was all about, you know, giving it to the man, so to
speak. And you know, while certainly we see the influence of blaxploitation
in hip-hop today, it is not the same as "The Godfather" or "Scarface,"
GROSS: Now you say in the introduction for your new collection that if it
wasn't for September 11th, the strip would have probably ended in 2002. Why?
Mr. McGRUDER: Because I was just burnt out. You know, I'm not a performer.
You know, I'm never there when people read the strip. So, you know, to me
it's a very small thing. I do it, I send it to my editor, and then that's it;
I'm on to the next week. So there was no sort of--there's no immediate
gratification. It's not like standing on stage and telling jokes and seeing
the audience respond to it. Also, it's an incredibly difficult job which was
sort of starting to wear on my health, and I just wasn't really happy. I
mean, it's just brutal. And many cartoonists work for years before they're
syndicated and have time to sort of, you know, find out if this is what they
really want to do. And I sort of did 30 strips in college and then went
straight into international syndication, and you know, it was a heavy
adjustment those first couple of years.
And I think what changed with September 11th was it felt as though the strip
would actually have a purpose, have sort of a reason to exist beyond just sort
of telling jokes about Puffy and BET and all that stuff, and also was
material. You know, there was something to talk about now. There was
something that was going to allow me to write the strip for six months without
a tremendous amount of effort, you know, and the fact that I think so many
people responded so positively to what I did after September 11th made it seem
worthwhile to continue doing it.
GROSS: What was your most controversial strip in the period just after
Mr. McGRUDER: It's tough to say because, you know, for six weeks it was
banned in New York. There was the one where Huey called the terrorism tip
line to turn in Ronald Reagan for funding Osama bin Laden in the '80s, and
that one, I guess, started what would be six weeks of the strip being banned
in New York, so I kind of look at that one as the most controversial. But I
don't know. I mean, I did a lot of stuff for about a year after that that,
you know, a lot of people just didn't like. I mean, there was one strip where
Huey was making reference to the German official who compared Bush to Hitler
and, you know, made note that Hitler was actually democratically elected,
unlike Bush. You know, there was a bunch of stuff. I mean, I was having a
good time and just trying to say things that I realized needed to be said but
that nobody else was going to say.
GROSS: Did you think at all maybe you should tone things down a little bit
out of respect to New Yorkers who lost so many friends and family in the World
Mr. McGRUDER: No. Look, you know, these people died because the federal
government, amongst other things, was asleep at the wheel. No, I don't see
how it's at all respectful to allow the government off the hook for its
responsibility in what happened September 11th, and that's what's so scary
about this country. We feel as though for some reason at the most critical
moments in history that we should sort of give up our right to speak freely
and say what we feel, and it's a very scary thing.
You know, I think about the Iraq war and how when it started and everyone
thought it was going to be over quickly, we paraded the dead around all day on
television like they were these great heroes and we couldn't--you know, I
mean, it just went on and everyone who got shot in the finger, you know, got
on television. Now we've got at least an average of 10 soldiers being wounded
a day and one or two being killed a day; we don't see them, because now it's
gotten ugly and now that's considered a buzz-kill like, you know, `Hey, you're
bringing us down; you're focusing on the negative.' Like these soldiers'
lives are somehow less important or their sacrifice is less important than the
ones that got wounded or died early in the war. It's sick. It's just really
GROSS: My guest, Aaron McGruder, writes and draws the syndicated cartoon
strip The Boondocks. His new collection of strips is called "A Right to be
Hostile." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest, Aaron McGruder, is the creator of the syndicated cartoon
strip The Boondocks. He has a new book of Boondocks strips called "A Right to
There's a strip in which--I forget which character it is, but I think it's one
of the brothers' friends is watching "Fat Albert" for the first time, based on
the Bill Cosby character, and he's really disappointed. I mean, he doesn't
like it and he doesn't see what all the fuss is about. And I guess I'm
wondering if you had that reaction when you were growing up to any of the pop
culture that your parents or relatives, older relatives, really loved but it
just wasn't working for you.
Mr. McGRUDER: You know, not really. I think the "Fat Albert" strips were,
to me, just really sort of going back and looking hard at that show because,
you know, so much of the stuff that we love from the '70s, my generation, we
love it out of nostalgia's sake, whether it's "Good Times" or "Fat Albert" or,
you know, whatever. And, you know, it's hard to shake nostalgia, but you go
back and look at it and you go, `Wow, a lot of this stuff was incredibly
What's particularly interesting about the "Fat Albert" thing is that it's
Bill Cosby, and Bill certainly likes to take a holier-than-thou stance
particularly with regard to what young black kids are doing today. And again,
it's not like there's not room for legitimate criticism, because I criticize
what young black kids are doing today all the time. But it's just really
interesting to go back and look at what he did back in the day, which if it
were, you know, seen today for the first time, I think, would be incredibly
offensive to the sensibilities of average black people.
GROSS: What do you think would be offensive?
Mr. McGRUDER: Well, look, it's Fat Albert, Dumb Donald, Weird Harold,
Mushmouth. I mean, there was the interesting thing on the Emmys where, you
know, Wanda Sykes asked him about the difference between, you know, what he
used to do and what black comedians are doing today, and Cosby said very
coldly, `Well, we used to speak English.' And I thought, well, gee, you know,
not really. I mean, if you look at Mushmouth, I mean, look, when people make
fun of how black people talk, they're doing Mushmouth. For the most part,
they're not cute kids; they're not particularly smart kids, as indicated with
Dumb Donald; they don't speak particularly well, like Mushmouth; they're
grossly overweight. You know, there's just--it ain't, you know, exactly the
most uplifting show.
GROSS: Do you have a favorite TV series from when you were growing up and had
a lot of time to watch TV?
Mr. McGRUDER: It's a good question. There was a bunch of shows I liked.
You know, I used to love the Peanuts specials. I think more than anything,
it's really why I'm doing what I'm doing. There was the Halloween special,
the Christmas special; those were just great. TV shows. Man. We did watch
"Good Times" and we watched "What's Happening" and, you know, we watched the
black shows and, you know, we liked them. We also watched--gosh, that's--I'm
trying to think back to what the heck I was watching when I was a kid. You
know, it's funny, when you're older, shows that seem like they were on forever
really weren't on for very long. I remember, it seemed like "Battlestar
Galactica" was on for like half my childhood; it was a show that we really
loved, me and my brother. But it was on for, like, a season and a half, maybe
like two seasons at most. You know, we watched "Transformers" and, you know,
some of the cartoons that were on. When we were a little older, obviously,
like everybody else, "The Cosby Show" was a big, big deal, and "Family Ties"
and "Cheers," and then later, you know, you had "Married... with Children,"
which I thought was a really, really good show. Later...
GROSS: You know, some of, like, hip-hop culture is about, like, having your
posse, you know, having, like, your people who you can, like, travel with and
be with and so on. The work you do is so solitary, sitting alone at home and
drawing a strip.
Mr. McGRUDER: Yes, I have no posse.
GROSS: You have no posse, right.
Mr. McGRUDER: I have no people.
GROSS: But does solitary work suit you?
Mr. McGRUDER: Yes and no. Look, I mean, the isolation of being a
cartoonist, I think, is a problem even to those cartoonists who are not into
hip-hop. It's just a very, very lonely job. Nothing in Hollywood is as
difficult, in my opinion, as being a cartoonist. All the stuff is easy after
GROSS: But why is being a cartoonist harder?
Mr. McGRUDER: Because it's completely on you and it never ends. It's
like--I think it's Sisyphus, I believe, is the guy that has to sort of push
the boulder up the hill and then it keeps rolling down. I may have screwed up
the name, but the point is it's that sort of never-ending burden, and you work
incredibly hard to get something done and you get it done, and then you got to
do it all over again, and it never ends. It's a very, very difficult job, and
most of us do it all by ourselves, which makes it more difficult. But at the
end of the day, it's much easier to yell at somebody else for screwing up than
to be angry at yourself for screwing up. It's just physically much more
damaging when the burden is all on you and you're beating yourself up week
GROSS: So when you're feeling kind of dry, what do you do to get ideas?
Mr. McGRUDER: Panic.
Mr. McGRUDER: I mean, there's really no easy answer. And again, it's part
of why the job is so difficult. When you're doing it alone and everything has
to come from you and it's not there, there's nothing to do but panic as the
clock ticks and the deadline approaches.
GROSS: Now you have a deal to turn the characters in Boondocks into both a TV
serial and a movie. So what's your role in the TV series and the movie?
Mr. McGRUDER: I'm an executive producer, meaning that, you know, on the
creative side I'm the boss. Now it doesn't mean much to the network or the
studio, but at least with the writers and the artists, you know, I'm the boss.
And I'm writing the pilot now, and I'll be, you know, I think, doing a lot of
writing on the series, you know, and I'm just basically the guy in charge.
And, you know, it's a very different thing.
GROSS: Right. Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. McGRUDER: Oh, absolutely. Thank you.
GROSS: Aaron McGruder writes and draws the syndicated comic strip The
Boondocks. His new book is called "A Right to be Hostile: The Boondocks
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
Oh, our CD player is being a little bit ornery there, so I think we'll have a
little bit of music momentarily. Oh, those machines. In the second half-hour
of our show, we'll talk to the founders of Google. Here's some music.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: So does the word `google' really mean? Coming up, we meet the
founders of the search engine, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. And we remember
psychologist Shirley Glass; she wrote about infidelity; she died last week at
the age of 67.
(Soundbite of music)
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Interview: Larry Page and Sergey Brin discuss the history and
workings of Google
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
We have Googled any number of persons, places and issues, but to find out more
about Google itself, we invited the creators of the search engine to talk with
us. Larry Page and Sergey Brin celebrated Google's fifth anniversary last
month. Google is one of the most popular engine search engines, and the
numbers are kind of astounding. Google receives more than 200 million search
queries a day and has an index of over three billion Web pages. If you've
never done a Google computer search, here's how it works: You type in the
name or keywords that you're researching, then hit a key, and in about a
second, you get a listing in descending order of importance of the relevant
Web sites. Brin and Page started Google as a research project when they were
graduate students at Stanford University.
When you started Google, was it just, like, the two of you in your office or
Mr. SERGEY BRIN (Co-founder, Google): When we started the company, it was
pretty quickly three of us. And my dorm room was the office, and Larry's dorm
room was the data center. He had all these computers piled up
after the first day or so, 'cause they're loud, and they have lots of fans and
stuff. Then pretty soon we rented a garage and a couple bedrooms from a
friend of mine, so we sort of had half of her house. And we spent, you know,
the early days kind of in a garage, like a traditional start-up.
GROSS: And how many employees do you have now?
Mr. BRIN: We have about a thousand employees now, kind of all around the
GROSS: And why do you need employees around the world?
Mr. BRIN: You know, I wonder that myself. But because, you know, when we
started this company, I was always baffled by all these big corporations and
how, you know, what did all those people do? But it turns out that there are
many important things to do, and our employees do a wonderful job. We have
many engineers who continue to innovate the technology, deploy new products
and improve old ones. We have many sales people, which help us generate
revenue. We have a lot of people who talk to our customers. And we have a
lot of employees who help take care of the other employees in various ways.
So, you know, by the time you sort of add up all the corporate functions, you
end up with a lot of people.
But I think when you think about it, as to what impact do those thousand
people have on the world, it's actually an amazing amount of effect per
person, because we're sort of serving the world its information, and you know,
arguably, you should be willing to devote many, many more people to doing
GROSS: Now do people angle for better placement? You know, everybody wants
to be that first item that comes up in a Google search.
Mr. LARRY PAGE (Co-founder, Google): Absolutely. People try to get better
placement within Google. And part of our job is to give you the absolute best
information, the most objective and honest information that we know how, and
we work very, very hard to do that, and it is a little bit of a battle for us.
Mr. BRIN: But I would also like to clarify, it sort of depends on what you're
searching for. I mean, if you're searching for a particle accelerator, you
know, finding some statistics or something like that, there's probably not
going to be too many people who angled sort of for positioning for that. If
you're looking for something like casinos online, for that, you know, there
will be lots of kind of people who use many different mechanisms, some kind of
nefarious, some not, to try to get to the top of the search results. And at a
basic level, we try to make our algorithms resilient to those kinds of things
and try to make them mathematically sound. There's always a gap. There are
always situations under which a person is able to get somewhat ahead via
various techniques. But we're continuously making changes.
GROSS: The searches and the results in Google are done basically by
computers, not by people. You don't have people deciding what the ranking is.
It's these mathematical formulas that you've computerized. So that
means--What?--that you have computers that every time you type in something in
a Google search, the computer basically searches the whole Internet to tell
you what the right Web pages are?
Mr. BRIN: Let me explain how that works. There are basically three stages to
a Web search. The first stage is called crawling, and there are a bunch of
computers, thousands of them, that go out and surf the Web, basically, much
like you do, only much, much faster. They do it at thousands of pages per
second. And in the process, they download all the Web pages. Then there is
something called indexing, where we take all those Web pages, and we build the
equivalent of what's at the back of an encyclopedia for all those Web pages,
only it's quite a bit more detailed and quite a bit thicker. It's probably
almost as big as the encyclopedia itself. And finally, once you have that
index--This is when people's searches actually come in--then you reference
things in the index, and you try to decide what the best results are for any
GROSS: How many searches does Google do a day?
Mr. BRIN: We do hundreds of millions, more than 200, and so if you work that
out, that's thousands per second. So it's pretty amazing to think about that
as you're, you know, going into your library and asking librarians questions,
only having thousands of questions asked per second.
Mr. PAGE: Also in many, many different languages, over 90 languages all
around the world.
GROSS: Explain what Google means and how you came up with the name.
Mr. PAGE: Well, Google actually is spelled slightly differently. We had a
little bit of trouble with spelling. I've never been very good at spelling.
But G-O-O-G-O-L means a very large number, one followed by a hundred zeroes.
And basically, we were looking around at large numbers and thought that it
would be fun to use something really large, 'cause we wanted to index, you
know, all the information in the world, and happened to find googol and
thought it sounded cool. And we were able to get the domain name which, even
at the time, 1998 or so, was quite a difficult thing.
GROSS: When you started working on Google, before you actually became a
company, how did you get the word out that this new search engine existed?
Mr. PAGE: Well, I think that's the amazing thing about the Internet is that
it is a very efficient method of distribution. Google is even part of that,
but we told, like, you know, a few of our friends and our professors and
actually a few people at a conference. And more and more people just started
using it, and they told their friends and so on, and it grew virally, really,
by itself. And I think for something as important as search, where, Sergey
just mentioned, you do it all the time, you search for all sorts of things
very often, you want to tell your friends when you find, you know, this great
new service that works better for you.
GROSS: And at what point did you decide this should be a business?
Mr. BRIN: I think that at some point, the search kept growing, and we had
more and more users coming every day, and we kept running out of compute
power. We didn't really have enough computers. We had sort of a handful.
And in fact, we'd go down to the loading dock in the computer science
buildings, sort of borrow the ones that were sitting there before, you know,
the people who had really got them on their grants, like, got around to it.
But eventually, that became kind of unscalable, and we decided we could get
better resources if we started a company, though it was about, you know, a
three-year path till we came to that decision. And finally, we decided that
we could, so we went out, and we bought a whole bunch of desks on our credit
cards, and then we were committed. And so after that, we raised the money and
started a proper company, and here we are today.
GROSS: My guests are Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google.
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guests, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are the founders of the
Internet search engine Google.
Google is used around the world, but are there some countries in which the
government can screen and censor the results of a Google search?
Mr. BRIN: There are to a certain extent, like the United States, for example,
but only in a very limited way. So we do comply with local laws.
GROSS: Where did you say, the United States?
Mr. BRIN: Yeah. Yeah, in the United States. So for example, the United
States has the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and so there's a mechanism by
which sort of copyright holders can object to what they view as copyright
violations being listed. And so as a result of that, there are--but there are
probably, like, a handful of sites or, you know, I don't know, maybe a hundred
Web pages that are blocked for that reason. And what we do in that situation
is there is a message at the bottom of your search results that says there
are, you know, omitted results for this reason, because there was this DMC
complaint and so forth. And then there's a site that you can click to, and it
will explain the issues in that particular complaint and so forth. In other
countries, like in France and Germany, there are some rules against Nazi
sites, and so there's once again a very small number, a handful of sites that
There are other countries that have sort of entire filtering technologies on
the Internet as a whole, as in sort of all the access points to the Internet
for a country are proxied, and at those points, the country can block certain
sites. Probably the most famous case for us, we were for a period of a number
of days blocked from China. But for the most part, in most countries, you
know, you see 99.999 percent of what's in there.
GROSS: You were completely blocked in China?
Mr. BRIN: You know, it's always murky, because you can't really tell, but we
were largely blocked--We could tell that--for, I think, on the order of 10
days. And I think there was a lot of sort of popular protest, because it is a
very useful tool for doing all kinds of things, you know, whether it's
scientific development, education, business. And so eventually we were
Mr. PAGE: We should say that at Google, we want to provide information to
people. That's what we do, and so we try to err on that side whenever we can.
I think this will be a very interesting issue for the world going forward.
GROSS: Now anyone who's used Google knows that when you type in the word, the
keyword that you're looking for, the keywords, that you can either click on
the Google search or the `I'm Feeling Lucky' search. What is the `I'm Feeling
Mr. PAGE: Well, unfortunately, I created that option, and people like it, so
we haven't been able to eliminate it yet. But the idea was, when we created
Google, that it was going to be so accurate that you didn't actually need to
look at the search results. You could just look at the first result directly.
And that obviously didn't quite work, so you had to feel pretty lucky in order
to think that that was going to work, and so, you know, it gives you the first
search result without showing you the 10 results. And you know, for some
things, like if you entered Stanford University, you know, it will work. You
hit on `I'm Feeling Lucky,' and it will go right to the home page.
GROSS: Why would somebody choose that over just the full search?
Mr. BRIN: Well, if you're particularly confident, then it saves you a step of
clicking, which is kind of nice. And for other people, it's kind of a fun
thing to do, but you wouldn't normally use it.
GROSS: How often do you Google yourself?
Mr. PAGE: You know, actually, we have this news alert service now where you
can sign up to get e-mails on any topic you want, and I have one running for
GROSS: Oh, how are you doing?
Mr. PAGE: You know, every day I get a few things, which is pretty
interesting to me, but I don't always have time to read all of them. So it's
sort of automatically Googling me all the time.
Mr. BRIN: My name's probably a little bit more unique, so it's, in fact, an
easier query, and I don't tend to get spurious matches, 'cause my last name's
Brin, whereas Larry's is Page, which, as you can imagine, occurs on the Web
GROSS: So do you Google yourself a lot?
Mr. BRIN: I usually search for myself when I'm trying out a new search
technology. Like if we've implemented a new ranking algorithm, then I'll try
it, because I am familiar with the results.
GROSS: Now I'll tell you, in preparing for this, I decided, let me Google
Google. So I typed in `Google' into the Google search, and I came up with a
lot of Google things in the regular search, but in the `Are You Feeling
Lucky?' search, I got nothing.
Mr. PAGE: Well, you just got Google itself.
GROSS: Yeah, I just got Google itself. Oh, I see. Google was giving me
Mr. PAGE: Yeah.
Mr. PAGE: In computer science, we call that a recursion.
GROSS: Oh, you even have a name for it.
Mr. PAGE: Yeah.
GROSS: Oh, I didn't quite get that. I kept thinking, `Oh, it's just
repeating itself.' I didn't realize it was giving me itself. And what's the
name for it?
Mr. PAGE: Recursion. It's kind of--Sergey's giving me a dirty look.
Mr. PAGE: It's a loose definition.
GROSS: Lighten up, Sergey.
Mr. PAGE: It's a loose interpretation of a hard recursion.
GROSS: Sergey, what's the more literal interpretation?
Mr. BRIN: The technical term is `it got itself back.'
Mr. BRIN: There's not really much beyond that. Idempotence, how about that?
GROSS: Say it again?
Mr. BRIN: Idempotence.
GROSS: What is that?
Mr. BRIN: That's when you--maybe I should stop while I'm ahead...
GROSS: You're just making this up, aren't you?
Mr. BRIN: ...before I dig a deeper hole. Idempotence is when you do
something and you get the original thing back.
GROSS: Oh, so that's a real word?
Mr. PAGE: That's a mathematical term.
Mr. BRIN: Yeah, but it's also just as loose as interpretation as Larry's was,
GROSS: Do you guys ever feel like the stars of "Revenge of the Nerds" or
something? Because, obviously--Like, you know what I mean? Like you live in
this world of, like, algorithms and arcane language and words and mathematical
things that a lot of people who aren't in that world like to just think of as,
`Oh, nerd,' you know. And, like, now you have this, like, incredibly
successful creation and business, and I'm sure you're really hot stuff and
everything. You know what I'm saying.
Mr. PAGE: Well, I'd hope we can serve as a positive example for people of
kind of the power of science and technology. For me, I guess, my dad was a
computer science professor, and I grew up with computers sort of from age six,
which was unusual at that time. I just felt really lucky to have access to
Mr. PAGE: And I guess I had sort of an innate feeling that there was a lot
you could do with these things, and it would really change the world and be
important. And I'm always amazed that there aren't more people who work on
technology and science and ways of changing the world in that way, 'cause I
think that's the easiest way to change the world.
GROSS: I want to thank you both so much for talking with us.
Mr. PAGE: Thank you.
Mr. BRIN: Thank you. Pleasure being here.
GROSS: Larry Page and Sergey Brin are the founders of Google.
Coming up, we remember psychologist Shirley Glass who wrote about the nature
of infidelity. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Shirley Glass discusses her book "Not `Just Friends'"
TERRY GROSS, host:
We were sad to learn that psychologist Shirley Glass died last week of breast
cancer at the age of 67. She was a marriage therapist who had devoted much of
her career to studying and writing about the nature of infidelity. She was
also the mother of our colleague Ira Glass, the host and producer of "This
We spoke with Shirley Glass last winter after the publication of her book "Not
`Just Friends,'" which was about what she described as the new infidelity.
The news she delivered was that good people in good marriages were having
affairs and that today's affairs are more frequent and more serious than they
used to be, because more men are getting emotionally involved, and more women
are getting sexually involved. Many affairs start in the workplace, but it's
not the old stereotypical relationship of the boss and secretary.
Dr. SHIRLEY GLASS (Psychotherapist): What I see happening in the contemporary
workplace is that men and women are working together as equals. They are
colleagues because women have entered what were formerly male-dominated
professions. And so these men and women get to know each other very well.
They have a lot of respect for each other, and they're working in an
environment where there's a lot of excitement, there's a lot of pressure. And
so they become very bonded, and they form deep friendships.
Unfortunately, because many people think that they're invulnerable to having
an affair unless they're in an unhappy marriage, they begin to imperceptively
cross these thresholds that lead them from a platonic relationship into an
emotional affair, and then that emotional affair often becomes sexualized, and
then you have something that's very threatening to the primary relationship.
GROSS: Now you write that there's a new kind of affair in which there isn't
necessarily even any sex. You call this, like, the new infidelity, affairs
that aren't even sexual. Well, how can that really be an affair?
Dr. GLASS: Well, I think the epitome of that is the Internet affair. And
when we say that there isn't any sex, what we really mean is there isn't any
physical contact, but there is a lot of sexual tension and sexual chemistry or
sexual sharing of fantasies or sharing of sexual attraction. So that this
emotional affair that doesn't have physical contact consists of an emotional
intimacy that is often greater than in the committed relationship. And once
that relationship becomes secret, then you have something that is much
different than a platonic relationship, because platonic relationships are
open to the committed relationship.
So, for example, somebody will come home from work or from school or from the
gym and they'll be talking about some new person that they've met, and they'll
share lots of information about this person and the fact that they went to
lunch together and they talked about the schools that they went to or whatever
their common interests are. And then it's as though this person disappeared
from the face of the Earth, because they stop talking about them, and they
stop mentioning that they saw this person today or that they had lunch with
this person or they stopped after work and had a drink with this person. And
once that wall of secrecy goes up, that is a very important danger sign that
you've entered a very unsafe zone for your committed relationship.
GROSS: OK. So you've established that a lot of infidelity starts at the
office, where two people are working together, they're very involved with each
other, and that develops into an emotional and then into a physical
relationship. Are there certain types of people who are most likely to get
involved in this kind of affair at work or with a friend?
Dr. GLASS: That's a very good question because what I see is that these are
not the typical philanderers. These are not people who believe that it's OK
to have a little bit of sex on the side, and these are not people who are
consciously looking for a relationship outside of their marriage because
they're so unhappy. And so these are pretty average people in good marriages,
but perhaps the marriages are stressed; perhaps they don't have a lot of time
to do fun things together, but you certainly wouldn't call these marriages
distressed or unhappy.
And so I don't think that there's a particular type. I think the people who
are aware of the dangers and who back off when they feel those attractions and
see those signals are certainly much less likely to get involved this way.
GROSS: If you find out your spouse has been having an affair, you'd probably
want to hear all about it and obsessively dwell on the details, and at the
same time, you wouldn't want to hear a word of it. So what advice do you
usually give couples about how much information to share about what actually
went on in the affair?
Dr. GLASS: I'm really guided by the betrayed spouse. When somebody finds out
that somebody that they have loved, somebody that they have trusted, somebody
that they thought was a good person has lied and deceived them, then their
reaction is traumatic. And they experience the same post-traumatic reactions
that people experience when they are violated by someone that they trusted,
when a natural disaster happens, when a person who thought that they were
healthy finds out that they have a serious illness, because they lose their
sense of innocence, and they lose their sense of invulnerability.
And one of the things that we do when we're traumatized is we try to make
sense of it, and we try to understand what the story is. And so telling the
story, the affair, is the only way that I know that people can get closure,
and it's the only way that I know that people can rebuild trust. In terms of
what questions need to be answered, usually the betrayed partner has pages and
pages of questions. And then as a therapist, then I have certain questions
that I want people to think about because I think that they deal more with
meaning of the affair than just the what, where, when and how.
GROSS: What kinds of questions would you ask that deal with the meaning of
Dr. GLASS: I would ask, `How did you give yourself permission as you crossed
these various thresholds?' I'm looking for `What are the vulnerabilities? Was
it curiosity? Was it flattery?', as you pointed out before. `Was it that you
felt your emotional needs weren't being met in the marriage? Is it because
everybody that you work with is engaged in these kinds of relationships and it
looks like it's an acceptable thing to do?' So we want to know, what are the
different vulnerabilities that set the stage for an affair?
I want to know, `What role did you play in that affair with that other person?
What did you like about yourself in that other relationship? And what would
you like to bring back into your marriage? What did you give in that other
relationship that perhaps you aren't giving in your marriage? And if you were
giving more in your marriage, maybe you'd be more invested, and maybe this
marriage would seem more appealing to you,' because the more we invest in a
relationship, the more we feel. And so sometimes the affair looks better
because the person's making time for it, they get together, they look in each
other's eyes, they plan when they're going to be together, they share their
most recent triumphs and their disappointments. And if we did that in our
marriages, the marriages would feel a lot better.
So I'm trying to get at what's the meaning of the affair, what was the
attraction of the affair, and what does it say about the marriage, so that we
can use that information to build the marriage back.
GROSS: Shirley Glass, recorded last February after the publication of her
book "Not `Just Friends.'" She died of breast cancer last week at the age of
67. We sent our condolences to our colleague Ira Glass and his family.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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