Commodification of Information

Out of all of the articles for class, two really resonated with me.1 The first was “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr. I found it extremely ironic but wildly appropriate that as I was reading, the page was loaded with ads and links to other pages–the same kinds of distractions that he talks about. It was interesting to read about how the Internet is actually changing the way we think because I never thought it would have that much of an impact. I had no idea how malleable our minds could be. That being said, I think part of the problem here goes beyond the fact that it’s changing the way people read and process information: it seems that no one is making an effort to counteract that, for which I think the blame should partially be laid on people–not the Internet. I have always loved reading and been an avid reader. I do spend a lot of time on the Internet now, but I make a concerted effort in my free time (AKA the summer) to read a lot of books, do crossword puzzles, and spend less time on the Internet. If you aren’t doing anything to try and maintain your ability to read normal novels, then of course you are going to lose that ability. (I do realize that people–myself included–are not aware of the profound effect that the Internet has on their way of processing information. This issue is not simply solved; nevertheless, I still maintain that we are part of the problem. The Internet is too.)

Like Carr, I am extremely unsettled by Google’s assertion that we might be greatly improved by artificial intelligence, or if our brains were completely replaced by artificial intelligence. The thought alone is scary. Intelligence is simply not that simple–you can’t replace it in one fell swoop. There are several different kinds of intelligence (8, according to Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory) and I truly believe that no artificial intelligence could completely embody any one of them, let alone multiple ones or a combination of some. It could perhaps come close with the logical-mathematical intelligence, but otherwise, no. Our minds are complex and each one is unique–there is absolutely no way that supplementing or replacing our brains with artificial intelligence could improve the way we think (unless the goal here is to process information like a machine–personally, I would rather not do that). AI would have to be extremely versatile and malleable to be able to adapt to each different person’s mind because, as Carr points out, our minds themselves are malleable, forever changing. I have very strong feelings on this topic, but I will leave my ranting to a minimum and simply end by saying No.

I am also not very comfortable with Google’s view of information as a commodity–I think it takes away much of the value of the information and the work that goes in to creating it. I’m having a difficult time articulating my feelings on this topic, but I will do my best. I suppose I feel so strongly about this because I really value learning, especially the process of learning. I don’t care much for some of the end results of learning (AKA tests), but others I thoroughly enjoy, like books. To think that information is a commodity somehow cheapens it, and it completely eliminates the wonderful learning process, and you miss the rich surrounding context. As a commodity, I suppose information still has value, but it’s a different value. It has a value for people/organizations like Google, because it gives them meaning. But it loses intangible values. (At the same time, I do wonder if one day, when information has become so much of a commodity, that somehow the tidbits of information that are not commodified will be extremely valuable–priceless–much the same way the commodification course has gone with nature.)

All of the above being said, I find some aspects of data mining interesting. The “Mining the Dispatch” site was fascinating, especially for the trends it shows. What makes these results valuable, though, is understanding the context in which they exist, as Dan Cohen alludes to in his piece about Google N-Grams (which, incidentally, I also think are very cool–if you have the context). I think these tools are wonderful ways to discover and visualize trends throughout history and aid us in understanding and representing history to the fullest extent possible, but they should not replace the physical research we do with books and archives, and they definitely should not be pursued or employed without proper context.2

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1. I would like to note that I read all of the articles for class, but am choosing to blog about the ones about which I feel most strongly.

2. Random thoughts about the other readings: I like how sassy–for lack of a better word–Dan Cohen is in his piece about N-Grams. And as per Turkel’s piece, I can’t believe people actually want to know the history of all those topics–shaving legs? Really?

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