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More Miscellany

During the class between responses to parts 1 and 2 of the Weinberger, we had discussed Weinberger’s infuriating use of white, middle-class anecdotal references. I still maintain that I enjoy his anecdotes, and find them valid in that he speaks from his positionality. I do very much agree, though, with the point was made in class that, because he is a white male, he seemed to have been under no obligation to mention his identity or societal position. As a woman of color, I find that I am careful in my writings to put in a disclaimer about writing from my position, defining political identity terms (in my case, “Asian” and “Asian American”), implying that my perspective is not completely objective, but one that must inevitably come from my unique experiences.

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Weinberger’s arguments in the second half of the book seem a lot to me what folks like Andrew Keen and Clay Shirky talk about, especially the part about Wikipedia. Keen, in particular, cautions (rather scathingly) against giving much credence to amateur works. I often use him as a source through which to talk about the idea of the expert. Keen rails on bloggers, mostly, but questions the validity and quality of information online. My personal opinion of that is that he’s rather snobby, and I am more likely to agree with Shirky’s and Weinberger’s take on the fact that digital media has the incredible potential to “democratize” information. However, there are caveats.

One of the big things standing in the way of this democratization is, however, the question of access. Again, Weinberger once again betrays his middle-class positionality by providing anecdotes best understood by people of his status. It’s very Euro/American-centric, and speaks to those who have access to digital connections. I don’t really want to belabor this point, as I’m sure most in class share my sentiments. It would also have been interesting/useful for him to think about this in a non-Western context, especially in somewhere like China. How does censorship work through these new orders of organization. And how did this video get past the censors? (the Chinese words “grass” “mud” and “horse” are not flagged for censorship, but put together with different tones, and you get a rather offensive phrase.)

Yochai Benkler, who is referenced by Weinberger, brings up what I think is one of the best questions, which is whether or not the digital age allows for more equality than the one-way mass communication model. Ironically, I would say that in one-way mass communication, the masses are equally disempowered. With digital media, there is the illusion of more choice (which does not always lead to equality – I object to his use of the word “equality” here, because equality doesn’t always mean choice). Matthew Hindman has written about the myth of digital democracy, in which democracy online is an illusion, with elites as the ones who still get their voices heard the most. Weinberger even says as much, noting that only a limited number of people participate in the editing process of Wikipedia. Only those voices are heard.

With my obsession with time, I wonder in which things get people to invest their time, and for me, the answer always boils down to who has the power to be visible, to be heard. Does anyone really read the discussion sections in Wikipedia? Do people care? Or do people want a neat narrative that tells them the “truth”?

I also wonder how much people use tags anymore. I’m helping with a website, and one of the other people working on this who has experience in SEO stated that tags are outdated and no one really uses them. At least for search optimization purposes.

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