Digital Literacy
My fourth day without Google.

[Original German Blog Post]

“Ask any kid what Facebook is for and he’ll tell you it’s there to help him make friends. […] He has no idea the real purpose of the software, and the people coding it, is to monetize his relationships. He isn’t even aware of those people, the program, or their purpose. […]
The kids I celebrated in my early books as “digital natives” capable of seeing through all efforts of big media and marketing have actually proven *less* capable of discerning the integrity of the sources they read and the intentions of the programs they use.”

Douglas Rushkoff

Vilém Flusser would have called Google a contraption of the kind that is functionally very simple but structurally highly complex. About such contraptions, Flusser had always warned us: to control these is nearly impossible – too much specialist knowledge from different disciplines would be necessary; to get controlled by them by contrast would be very easy: they are useful to us and easily accessible for everyone – even without expertise.

What is true for using the Internet in general should be important to us for Google in particular. In September, according to Comscore, short of fifty million Germans had accessed Google, which is approximately 90% of Germany’s online population; every single one of these fifty million visitors hit Google’s pages forty times in average. And while most of the users would answer the question on the reason of existence of Google similarly correlated with the benefit for themselves, it becomes obvious, latest with the publication of the quarterly numbers, that Google is in the meanwhile probably the most efficient advertising channel among all media – at least regarding performance.

People behind SEO and SEM have learned to understand Google in that very sense. And to make it thus clear of what kind these search-experts are there is a nice pictorial classification in two wings:
the Black-Hats – the villains from the western, that systematically exploit the weaknesses of the search-algorithms, that are unavoidable with systems that complex, and the White-Hats, how in IT-business such security experts that are the “good” hackers, that should help to stabilise systems with their knowledge are called.

For us users, it does not matter in the end, if we are drawn to some page we would not want to visit by a dark Black Hat, or if a White Hat, an employee of a “respectable search agency” had optimised the search so we would get results we also would not want to get. However the ambiguity of the sound of these terms in the English language is nice: Blackhead and Whitehead are both just acne. That means, also the SEO-Pros, that do perhaps see themselves as the heroes with the white hat, are immediately associated with the nuisance of skin impurities.

“When human beings acquired language, we learned not just how to listen but how to speak. When we gained literacy, we learned not just how to read but how to write. And as we move into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them.

Digital tools are not like rakes, steam engines, or even automobiles that we can drive with little understanding of how they work. Digital technology doesn’t merely convey our bodies, but ourselves.

At the very least we must come to recognize the biases – the tendencies- of the technologies we are using.”

Douglas Rushkoff goes on.

Digital Literacy does not only consist of knowing the where and how to retrieve relevant information; it is not just about being able to judge a source’s quality or to take care in spreading personal data. Digital literacy means at the very first to distinguish which interests effect the Internet, which intentions lie beneath the offering of certain services, and too comprehend the technological base thereunder.

And in the same way, as we not only learn to hear but also to speak, not only to read but also to write, digital literacy does not get complete before we become not only passive users but take active action. We should all have the capability to do SEO – at least in a basic form. We should utilize the functionality of those contraptions for our means, in the same way the search-engine-optimisation people do, and to take just as good as we can, our share out of these structures.

Or how Benedikt Köhler remarks: “Machines exist to serve us. There is something to learn from culture of the Hacker for media makers: not to submit to the machines, neither reject, but to take advantage of the machines, to even downright exploit them!”

At this moment I am sitting at Schwechat. It is a wonderful autumn day, and today again, as yesterday, it was hardly difficult to keep away from search engines. All links that I would have needed, e.g. to prepare this journey, I found on Wikipedia or was recommended to by my friends.

Read more:
“The Army of Technological Slaves.”

The other posts of my experiment “Without Google”:

  • Everything is turned into a highway
  • Digital Literacy
  • Censorship
  • Orientation with Openstreetmap
  • Valuable recommandations

    and the beginning of the experiment:

  • Without Google
  • Author: Joerg Blumtritt

    Joerg Blumtritt (*1970) is data scientist and blogger. He co-founded the companies Datarella and BAYDUINO, based in Munich, Germany, and Baltic Data Science in Gdansk, Poland. Datarella develops data-driven products for the Internet of Things, BDS delivers data-science-as-a-service, BAYDUINO builds open source hardware. Before that, Joerg had worked for media companies in Europe and the US. Having graduated in statistics and political sciences with a thesis on machine learning, Joerg started as a researcher in behavioral sciences, focused on nonverbal communication. As political activist and researcher, Joerg works on projects regarding future democratic participation and open source IoT. He is co-author of the Slow Media Manifesto and blogs about media and art at slow-media.net, about data and the future of social research at beautifuldata.net, and about the IoT at datarella.com.

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