Nerds Really Do Rule

February 23, 2009

For some participants in the course, Media, Politics, and Power, the readings are simply reviews or perhaps even outdated.  But for someone like me, each page is a new insight and new understanding.  Back in the year 2000, I was dragged kicking and screaming from my trusty selectric-typewriter into word processing.   Shortly thereafter I became email literate.  Then over the next couple of years, I began to realize the wealth of knowledge available to me via the “search world.”   Nothing remarkable there except  the realization—through reading  the first chapters of book:  “The Search”—that those user-friendly search tools were actually quite new and evolving to a significant degree about the same time my on-line/internet learning curve was evolving.    In other words:  I had absolutely no idea that these search capabilities were quite new to the general internet user.  I just assumed they’d been around for years and years.

Learning the history of search is obviously necessary to understanding what the future might hold.  The basics of search:  1) “they must crawl 2) “they must index” 3) “they must serve results”  seem quite straight forward and pretty cool.  But the ability to scale to the size and continued growth of the Web seems absolutely overwhelming to me.  I can get my brain around mountains of books in a library and a way to catalog and index them for general use (Dewey Decimal system, etc.).  But the ability to send out little “info robots” to gather up information in literally every corner of the world and “catalog” it and THEN put it in a format that allows me, through keyboarding a few words or a phrase, to bring it onto my computer screen—Wow, that is astounding.  I don’t know what to think of Chapter one’s inference that artificial intelligence could realistically evolve out of this technology.  The possibility of search becoming “self-aware” and capable of “watching you as you interact with it” seems too sci-fi to me.  But what do I know…I just threw away my typewriter a few years ago!

 In addition, the term “database of intentions” does conjure up all sorts of uses of this information—both for good and ill.  One that immediately comes to mind in the “ill” category is the ability of a search engine and its handlers to censor material that they disapprove of.  It appears that it would be quite easy for a Google or a Yahoo to control the dialogue on any given topic.  You don’t like a particular political persuasion or ideology; you just make sure that material doesn’t see the light of day through the programming of rankings, etc.  Clearly I don’t have more than about a 2-year old’s grasp on this technology, but my guess is that censorship could be accomplished.  Then when I consider that market tendency is toward narrowing of the field in any type of business endeavor, having just one entity controlling “search” makes my concern on censorship seem even more valid.

I apologize for not having any new insights or connections that show a deep understanding of the on-line world.  I’m just in the stage of learning about all of this and being incredibly impressed by the brainpower of the developers of these technologies.    Nerds really do rule.

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