Week 2: Challenging the Dominant Tech, a Lesson Plan

For a lesson plan to be most effective, there should be a goal achieved by the end by both the instructor and the students. At a high school level class, I believe the best way to approach the topic of Google is through the technology that we utilize of theirs every day, driving the point that it has already infiltrated and dominated our lives. The goal then of this lesson plan is to allow the students to be at least aware, at most cynical about the activities that Google produces in them, and an awareness of the value of good research (this coming from a Teaching Fellow that just spent a semester with Freshmen asking them to conduct sound and detailed research). As I said, I think the best way to do this is through the use of the product, and so I would go Google Chrome, which I do believe is the best search engine with the ease of my tailored needs, and explain that to the students, along with the access and programs available through a free Google account is incredible: Google drive to create, store and share all your documents, slideshows, graphs, tables, and more, which is of great importance as we have discovered in a digital age to have backups of everything available online (Box, Dropbox, and others are examples of non-Google driven storage).  Next, I would pull up YouTube, the Google owned and extremely dominant video upload cite, to pull search the video “Google Don’t Be Evil”. The first video that pops up is this: “Google’s Plan for World Domination.” Please, take a look.  

Questions that I would use to lead discussion begin with “what did this video explain to you?”; “were you surprised by any of this, or did you already understand what Google has been doing/is capable of?”; and “Is this something to truly be concerned of, or is the convenience of Google more appealing than the thought of their selling of information?”

One of the key moments that Dr. Noble put forth, in easy to grasp language was that “we are Google’s product” one that they sell to marketers. Using this key term to frame the last question would make it easier for students, I believe, to begin to grasp the “man behind the curtain” aspect. To push it further, I would then remind students of my own Google account, which I signed on to at the beginning of class to show the pure ease of Google, but would begin to challenge this.  I turn to Dr. Nobel’s writing on the subject: “A 2011 study by Martin Feuz, Matthew Fuller, and Felix Stalder found that personalization is not simply a service to users, but rather a mechanism for better matching consumers with advertisers, and that Google’s personalization or aggregation is about actively matching people to groups; that is, categorizing individuals. Personalization is, to some degree, giving people the results they want based on what Google knows about its users, but it is also generating results for viewers to see that Google calculates might be good for its advertisers. As a result of these practices, increasing attention is being paid to how the Internet acts as the space within which the attention, desires, and free labor of users are harnessed into surplus value.”  This explanation would be the basis of the lesson that Google not only sells your search results, but also sell the information displayed to the highest bidder, which was explained to us in Noble’s discussion. Not only this, but programmers of these sites are able to rig the system of the algorithm through the use of hyper linking or “Googlebombing” as the term was used in Noble’s work. 

This is then the major challenge to the understanding, or ideology of the students in regards to the seemingly “unbiased” “purely mathematical algorithmic” and “unintentional” searches that Google (and other search engines) are producing. Once these thoughts are challenged, it is the time for the issue of identity to begin to step into the class. Some challenging questions to put forth: with this understanding that Google is able to sell the spot to the highest bidder, or that people are able to rig the system, what does this mean about your search results?; What if you were searching for information in regards to your ethnic background, to understand more of your family’s history maybe?; The results that come up may very well be true, but now do you out right trust them to be the only truth? Or would you begin to dig deeper, now that you understand that Google’s systems are at best broken and fixable, at most rigged by “the man”.  In guiding their responses, I would end this portion of the discussion focused on the quickly crumbling building blocks of identity and how it is displayed by the Internet through the language of Grimmes and Warf as brought further by Nobel:  “Much of the Internet’s use, for commercialism, academic, and military purposes, reinforces entrenched ideologies of individualism and a definition of the self through consumption. Many uses revolve around simple entertainment, personal communication, and other ostensibly apolitical purposes… particularly advertising and shopping but also purchasing and marketing, in addition to uses by public agencies that legitimate and sustain existing ideologies and politics as “normal,” “necessary,” or “natural.” Because most users view themselves, and their uses of the Net, as apolitical, hegemonic discourses tend to be reproduced unintentionally…Whatever blatant perspectives mired in racism, sexism, or other equally unpalatable ideologies pervade society at large, they are carried into, and reproduced within, cyberspace.” 

By now the student’s minds should be blown, and they can begin to distrust the system that is in place, and that ultimately they can look past the first page of results, begin to look at multiple searches, use multiple key words/terms, and not just be focused on the latest and greatest that the Internet has to offer. This can then be tied into their personal rhetorical skills, looking for the unseen morass of how people have been able to buy and sell their products, positions, and ultimately their ideologies through advertisements and articles that push their agenda through the dollars they spend upon the number one Google ranking. 

(Library of Congress Category: Technology>Information Technology. Or
Sociology> Social Systems, or Social  Control.)

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