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
  • The Army of Technological Slaves

    [Original German Blog Post]

    “καρπὸν δ᾽ ἔφερε ζείδωρος ἄρουρα
    αὐτομάτη πολλόν τε καὶ ἄφθονον”
    Hesiod, Έργα και ημέραι

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

    “For that being who by nature is nothing of himself, but totally another’s, and is a man, is a slave.”

    For if every instrument, at command, or from a preconception of its master’s will, could accomplish its work (what the poet tells us of the tripods of Vulcan, “that they moved of their own accord into the assembly of the gods “), the shuttle would then weave, and the lyre play of itself; nor would the architect want servants, or the master slaves.”

    Aristotle, Politics

    Why don’t the Gods keep slaves? Because they let, by virtue of their power, their work be done of its own volation, automatically. From these thoughts Aristotle in his Politics derives a dialectic path which the history of humanity moves along – from beast to god in three steps; in our time of automatisation, this seams fantastically up to date: first man learns to walk upright and thus to use his hands, to speak, to think. He is freed from the elementary necessities. Second, man discovers that the most powerful tool is man himself – or better, fellow men, that can be made use of: “A man provided with paper, pencil and rubber, and subject to strict discipline, is in effect a universal machine.” (Alan Turing). This is the beginning of slavery.

    Yet even Aristotle sees the chance, that mankind can liberate itself again, to resort to ever keeping some proportion of men in the indignity of being mere means: to someday approach the gods by better and better tools, by Automatoi, technological slaves,

    Technological slaves.
    “Brain of Steel- no overexertion, no errors!”

    In Modernism, the term Technological Slave’ was introduced by the discoverer of the macro molecules and later Nobel price laureate Hermann Staudinger. Already in 1915, Staudinger warned in an expertise for the German Reich’s war ministery, that the outnumbering of technological slaves on the side of the Allies would be superior to the Central Powers’ greater number of human soldiers. Unfortunately, the government did not buy into that; neither ten years later, when Staudinger used this simple argument to belie the Stab-in-the-back legend.

    For the last time, Herman Staudinger spoke up in this case in 1946 with a visionary forsight on the consequences of nuclear power and his warning of a “Rise of the Technological Slaves”, so that satisfying the hunger for energy of these slaves would finally lead to total dependance of mankind.

    Although we are still far off to have all our labour and work taken away by the automats, the Aristotelian idea of technological Slaves gives a good picture of the role, machines should play in our lives.

    “Experience has also show you the difference of the results between mechanism which is neat, clean, well arranged, and always in a high state of repair; and that which is allowed to be dirty, in disorder, and without the means of preventing unnecessary friction, and which therefore becomes, and works, much out of repair. […] If, then, due care as to the state of your inanimate machines can produce such beneficial results, what may not expected if you devote equal attention to your vital machines, which are far more wonderfully constructed?” (Robert Owen, A New View of Society)

    In contrast to Utopian-socialist Robert Owen’s advocating to give human workers the care that would likewise be given to machines to prevent them from premature abrasion, the social ethics of the 20th century turned this and made man the end and not the means for the existence of machines:

    “At the same time, however, there is a growing awareness of the exalted dignity proper to the human person, since he stands above all things, and his rights and duties are universal and inviolable.” (Gaudium et Spes)

    Prometheus was nailed to the Caucasus for bringing man the ability to rise above nature – and in return the Olympian gods gave us the present of Pandora’s Box – that we would have our own Automatoi. Machines are our technological slaves. They have to serve us. Where they would still oppose, we have to learn to subject them in a cunning way.

    That is Benedikt’s call, cited above: take advantage of the machines, they are made for this! And that means: also creative professionals, mind workers, editors, journalists, should think like hackers. Hacker for me is a neutral to positive term. Hacker make use of technology as completely as possible. Like the famous investigative journalists, they don’t let themselves hold up by arbitrary rules which are supposed to tell us, how we should use information.

    In Google’s algorithms, in the depths of Wikipedia and in the flow of letters on Twitter, there is much more to find, as the approved way of using these tools would show. The response of the publicists and journalists on news aggregators like Google News should sound: Hurray! Finally we are liberated from rewriting boring agency reports; finally a machine takes from us, what in fact has never been valuable work. Instead of sabotaging the Looms like the weavers, we should see to get the most out of the new technology – to make technology our slave, for Pandora’s Box is opened and the Automatoi that escaped from it cannot be captured again.

    Technological Slaves and Pandora’s Box.