In 2006, the cover of Time magazine, proclaimed “You” (I read that to mean, me), “Yes, you, are in control of the Information Age.” This past week’s Lifestream caused me to question whether I am really in control, or actually being progressively controlled by ‘invisible’ “active algorithms,” (Knox, J. 2014) “filter bubbles” (Pariser, E. 2011) and embedded codes. Transitioning to this week’s focus on algorithms from previous block on MOOCs, Dr. Knox’s assertion that “rapid rise of the MOOC demonstrates that education is not exempt from the wider infiltration of code into all aspects of social life” (p. 43) was a poignant segue.
“Control” is a word that I expected to encounter more often this past week, and I’m not sure why it didn’t appear as often expected. Perhaps academic research is still scrambling to catch up with all the research dimensions of the exponential spurge of digital technologies and their pervasive influence of our lives. Perhaps we need new paradigms and models to explain the phenomenon. Perhaps the tools are not adequate to cope with the sheer volume of data. Maybe individual “control” is becoming an obsolete concept in the digital age, where large multinational for-profit companies are insidiously implanting themselves in our socio-materiality.
Surprisingly, “movement” is a word that seemed to be mentioned more frequently that expected; rather than “control.” This notion of movement reverberates in Knox’s examination of the ‘socio-materiality’ of the EDCMOOC where “there is no inside and outside, but rather a relations set of practices and mobilities” (p. 46), and “ideas about transition and movement between different spaces is a challenge to the the practices of data mining assumed to be one of the drivers..” (behind the major MOOCs) (p.53).
Readings, experiments with algorithmic plays, and daily virtual (mostly Twitter) exchanges with EDC peers this past week led to a increasing sense of vulnerability and hopeless abandon to a Hobson’s choice of either acquiescing to the algorithmic reach into personal freedom, or attempting to go incognito or anonymous. [See New Yorker “The Solace of Oblivion” post below]. Knox further points out that “we may need to recognize that the growing proliferation of algorithms and code act in ways that cannot be predicted.” (p. 52) The only personal defensive posture is to become more educated to be able to detect the algorithms – that Gillespie labels “codes with consequences” – all around me. Yet, Gillespie notes the seductive allure where “we simply enjoy when the algorithm confirms our sense of our self” and the deterministic logics “of these algorithms that not only shape user practices, but lead users to internalize their norms and priorities.”
Preparing myself for “more and more encounters with the unexpected” this week.
Knox, J. K. (2014). Active algorithms: sociomaterial spaces in the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC. Campus Virtuales, 3(1): 42-55.
Gillespie, T. (2012). The Relevance of Algorithms. forthcoming, in Media Technologies, ed. Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo Boczkowski, and Kirsten Foot. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Pariser, E. (2011). The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You. New York, NY: The Penguin Press.