November 04, 2010

The Political Economy of Search and Space

There was an interesting piece in the Guardian recently by Micah White with the provocative title, "Google is polluting the internet". (Thanks to Martin Dodge who sent it to me.) It basically comes down to an analysis of the political economy of knowledge classification in the age of Google searching. How do we relate things together? And most crucially, how does advertising (Google's revenue source) influence what we find and what we chose to pursue?

Food for thought and similar to many of the issues that we regularly raise here in regards to how sorting of maps (including advertisements) shapes our understanding of places. We generally think of ourselves as sophisticated users of technologies but we are not immune; advertising links on our smartphones have changed our decisions about where to go.

There is no one right answer to how to search and map, just as there is not one truly representational map. The decisions that are made are necessary for things to work but they are decisions rather than simply value-neutral operations and warrant thoughtful consideration. As this article notes, "There is no system for organising knowledge that does not carry with it social, political and cultural consequences. Nor is an entirely unbiased organising principle possible. The trouble is that too few people realise this today. We've grown complacent as researchers; lazy as thinkers. We place too much trust in one company, a corporate advertising agency, and a single way of organising knowledge, automated keyword indexing."

Introna and Nissenbaum have a good article on this for those who are interested (see below). I'd welcome any other suggestions as well.

Introna and Nissenbaum 'Shaping the Web: Why the Politics of Search Engines Matters' (The Information Society, 16(3):1-17, 2000)

1 comment:

  1. wow. this is true.

    that quoted line reminds us of what technology makes of us. Google has made life easier, yes, but it has changed the way people live. we always want a better means in making things, google does that for us. however, not only people's way of living change, also those who not-so-on-the-right-side. they can take advantage, they can misinform, they can manipulate through this technology.

    still, everything is still up to us. kudos! one great article.

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