Monday, February 16, 2009

The Grouping Polity

[I'm still mulling these ideas over... -rd]

The Internet’s charms are no short list; the Internet provides advantages to most people, and steals the identities of those who disagree. The majority of Internet users are in love because easy access means fast results. Sad to say though, what the Internet doesn’t do is mediate difference all that well because the Internet renders individualizing effort impossible.
Say, for example, that you’re a Wiki Editor with a penchant for editing: editing is YOUR business and you shake your editing like a Polaroid. You do it damn well. You edit, and you do it without getting credit. In fact, it’s not the non-credit getting environment that is the problem; getting credit or not doesn’t matter to you. What is problematic, from everything to the (in)accuracy of Google to the intimacy of Wiki Editors everywhere is the invisible borderline drawn – and visible only to you – between your work and the work of other (perhaps inferior, perhaps not) editors.
Since there are no borders between individual effort, the Internet is forced to group all Wiki editors as equals and all Keyword copywriters as equals; but they are not equals. And as consumers of this information we might never know why they aren’t equal and where that equality ends and another begins. Sure, some have degrees, some love their jobs. Some do it because they need work. Perhaps they all do it well, and we can tell. But how and why that labor is lumped together and the very division of these labors is invisible.
I want to restate that I’m not arguing about the division of labor nor recognition for your what you do and whom you do it with, but rather I find it disconcerting that there are borders where we perceive none, and the problems of invisible borders that we perceive as being non-existent borders can affect us in real life. An area where this frequently happens is – to use an already overused example – in comment boxes.
The comment box is democratic: all comment, all espouse, all may respond. But what if we perceive no border – and thus no variation – between what is written and what said comment’s author actually believes. Most reply that sincerity drives whether we associate these two: we assume that we always write what we say. But what about when we don’t? What about when we want to discuss, or have explained, or clarify our stance, or have another stance clarified, etc? Borders aren’t so clear, and they’re less clear when we don’t see them.
So what, Ryan. Big effing deal. Well, big effing deal maybe, but the differences we can’t see aren’t addressed: the rankings of Google only tell what’s most popular, not what’s best; but more importantly they don’t tell who created what’s best, or if indeed what’s best was the work of one person or many. I find this particularly relevant to student research, where students might waste hours reading a page editing by one raving loon, or vice versa. Obviously, different editors exist. It’s problematic when we don’t know where and why, or how those decisions are made.

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