Monday, February 15, 2010

you are not a gadget part 2

Another book I'm reminded of as I'm reading Lanier's manifesto is Vincent J. Miller's Consuming ReligionAssistant Professor of Theology at Georgetown University, Miller observes that when his students need answers to a question, they invariably "google" it as do my students, and if you are a teacher, yours too I'm guessing. They are almost immediately granted random access to the little piece of data that answers the question. The information provided, though, is divorced from any of its rich historical context, instead offering "sound byte" answers in effect. The medium provides the glut of information without filtering the important from the unimportant, the true from the false. That type of sifting requires an informed reader or interpreter.   

Shane Hipps has explored similar ideas in his book The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture. Hipps says that the hidden message given by the ease which we can access contextless information is that the historical context of information is irrelevant, that, in fact, "truth is entirely idiosyncratic".

Digitally stored "information is alienated experience," says Lanier. Yes, it objectively exists, but it is only de-alienated (contextualized?) if it is experienced: "If the bits [of information] can potentially mean something to someone, they can only do so if they are experienced. When that happens, a commonality of culture is enacted between the storer and the retriever of the bits. Experience is the only process that can de-alienate information" (p. 29).

And yet the information itself, even if it's experienced, comes to us in an "alienated" form...without context.

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