Eric Schmidt's Exemplary Sweetheart, Britney Spears

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Last night, before the news about Google's new cloud music service broke, Internet researcher and writer Evgeny Morozov made a slightly less serious observation about the massive Internet giant. "I found at least six speeches - all on YouTube - where Eric Schmidt makes a bad joke about Britney Spears," Morozov wrote.

And we have to say, upon review of the evidence, Morozov is not wrong. Schmidt, the former CEO and current executive chairman of Google, really does drop a lot of Britney Spears jokes. We've embedded seven below. (In fairness, AllThingsD's Liz Gannes notes that Spears was often one of the most-searched terms on the Internet.)

Often, Spears comes up when Schmidt is discussing what people like on the Internet, especially the billions of people in the developing world that are now coming online through computers, or more likely, mobile devices. What's curious about Schmidt's Spears jokes is that they don't always tell the same story, as Morozov noted in a later tweet.

She used to be an icon of our common humanity. "People still care about Britney Spears in these other countries," he said in 2009, but in more recent talks, Spears is a symbol of how much we don't know what we have in common as humanity. "Will they love Britney Spears as much as we do or will they care about other things?" he pondered in 2011, before concluding, "I have no idea."

I'm not sure why Schmidt has changed his tune. Schmidt believes, deep down, that everyone across the globe fundamentally has the same desires and aspirations. He said as much at a Princeton colloquium in 2009: "the key insight of my service at Google is that people are the same everywhere." Perhaps he has decided to rein in his intuition until he has Google-level data to back his claim about the homogeneity of humanity, at least as regards the appeal of a certain Ms. Spears.

"I don't think we're going to fundamentally decrease the fascination that the world has with Britney Spears," Schmidt says. "I think it is going to fundamentally continue." -- Eric Schmidt speaks at the Newspaper Association of America on April 7, 2009 in San Diego.

"The most common question I get about Google is, 'Well, how is it different everywhere else?' And I'm sorry to tell you, it's not," Schmidt says. "People still care about Britney Spears in these other countries. It's really very disturbing. In fact, the key insight of my service at Google is that people are the same everywhere." -- Princeton Colloquium on Public and International Affairs, "Prosperity or Peril? The Next Phase of Globalization," hosted by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, on April 18, 2009.

"So all of a sudden people who only recently have television, have almost no information, don't have access to libraries and books, all of a sudden they get access to all of the world's information in every known language," Schmidt says. "And they can communicate not just in terms of learning and education but they can follow their favorite stars. We'll run a test and discover if everyone else is just as obsessed with Britney Spears as Americans are. That sort of thing, and probably the answer will be yes." -- Eric Schmidt at at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, NY on November 3, 2010.

"The first message about human nature is that human nature is overwhelmingly positive and the second is that all those people we don't know but think directly or indirectly are not at our level have all the same aspirations that we do," Schmidt says. "Just because they are poor or uneducated or in a different language or -- oh my god -- not Americans, it's amazing that they all want exactly the same things ... starting with Britney Spears." -- Eric Schmidt speaks with Atlantic editor James Bennet at the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington, D.C. on October 1, 2010.

"So what happens when you have a powerful browser in the hands of people who've never seen anything except maybe a television in a shared model. We haven't heard from them. We don't really know what they think," says Schmidt. "I personally believe they all care about Britney Spears and I think we're going to discover that. But we don't know." -- Eric Schmidt speaks with John Hockenberry at the 25th birthday of MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass. on October 15, 2010.

"It is because of your work in spreading mobile devices that two billion people will enter our conversation who we've never heard from in the next three to four years," Schmidt says. "We don't know what they care about. Will they love Britney Spears as much as we do or will they care about other things? I have no idea. But the important thing is that they are coming. -- Eric Schmidt speaks at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain on February 15, 2011.

"It looks like between 1 and 2 billion people who have never been connected are going to get connected to this world. We're going to find out a lot about them," Schmidt says. "What languages they speak and the things that they care about. And do they really care about Britney Spears as much as we do or do they care about something else? We don't know." -- Eric Schmidt speaks at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Springs, Calif. on February 27, 2011.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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