page considers whether humans still have a role in search.
It covers -
Some of the founding myths
of the net were an expression of populism, with notions
that everyone online would be equal, everyone would be
free and power structures would erode. One of those structures,
of course, was the mediation of librarians and publishers
between authors and readers, creators and consumers.
If the mediaeval injunction was 'first kill all the lawyers',
the 1990s was marked by 'now dispense with all the librarians'
- authority figures supposedly having the charisma of
wet cement, a commitment to saying no in an environment
where "information just wants to be free" and
an inability to understand (or merely appreciate the revolutionary
potential of) electronic networks.
That caricature was, at best, naive. Access to information
is not necessarily equivalent to understanding. Access
to a search engine does not mean that the user finds relevant
information quickly and comprehensively. As the preceding
pages have indicated, expertise in information retrieval
and evaluation still matters.
That has been reflected in catchphrases that for many
best search engine is a person'
beats software and hardware'.
can be relevant in -
of general and specialist search tools such as Google,
WestLaw, Factiva and Medline
of how those tools operate and of conventions for their
use, of particular importance in exploiting tools such
as LexisNexis that lack user-friendly, intuitive interfaces
search strategies that ensure appropriately comprehensive
or granular information retrieval on a timely basis
information that is gained through searches, embodied
in the notion of 'digital literacy'.
information can be found effectively (quickly, reliably
and with appropriate comprehesiveness) by non-specialists.
However, expertise in data retrieval and evaluation has
not been banished by the net; the online 'information
cornucopia' has indeed
privileged people and institutions with information management
Gilster's Digital Literacy (New York: Wiley 1997)
characterised digital literacy as
ability to understand and use information in multiple
formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented
via computers ... [Not] only must you acquire the skill
of finding things, you must also acquire the ability
to use those things in your life. Acquiring digital
literacy for Internet use involves mastering a set of
core competencies. The most essential of these is the
ability to make informed judgments about what you find
educationalists have commented that acquisition (and assessment)
of 'core competencies' is a recurrent concern, with K12
and higher education institutions emphasising 'critical
thinking' - along with interpretation of film and electronic
media - since at least the 1950s.
Lawrence Cremin thus differentiated between 'inert literacy'
("verbal and numerate skills required to comprehend
instructions, perform routine procedures and complete
tasks in a routine manner") and 'liberating literacy'
("command of both the enabling skills needed to search
out information and the power of mind necessary to critique
it, reflect upon it, and apply it in making decisions").
Australian curricula have similarly sought to encourage
students to find, read and deconstruct both text and images
in dealing with books, newspaper items, radio, television
Gilster and some peers have suggested that 'new media'
are qualitatively different, because -
is more readily available
and external cues of quality and bias may be less discernable
or deliberately deceptive
gatekeepers such as teachers, librarians, expert editors
and publishers may have been disintermediated.
have pointed to the potential impact of factors such as
laziness or pragmatism (if you can get what you need
from a problematical source such as Wikipedia
why search further or engage in forensics?)
of authority (eg deliberate reliance on flawed online
sources as an expression of adolescent rebellion and
failure to engage with secondary school teaching)
in 419 scams and joe
jobs through a suspension of disbelief because of
greed, love of scandal
or willingness to believe the worst of public figures
unfriendliness of some advanced search mechanisms
reassurance provided by recycling the same information
as peers, a practice sanctified in pop texts such as
James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the
Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom
Shapes Business, Economies, Societies & Nations
(New York: Random 2004) but questioned in the more perceptive
True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society
(New York: Wiley 2008) by Farhad Manjoo.
have varied. Some observers have argued for the importance
of training users to -
aware of how presentation can influence perceptions
of authority and bias
searches centred on generic names
for information about the objectives and credentials
of content providers
the currency of online information
effective use of 'advanced search' features on major
search engines such as Google
that some information is trivial whereas reliance on
other information may have serious legal, commercial
or health impacts.
have argued that 'misreading' represents a digital divide,
discussed in works such as the 2005 paper
'Web of lies? Historical knowledge on the Internet' by
Daniel Cohen & Roy Rosenzweig in 10 First Monday
12 and Mark Warschauer's 2002 paper
'Reconceptualizing the Digital Divide' and Technology
and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide
(Cambridge: MIT Press 2003).
The dimensions of that divide are unclear. Much commentary
on the extent and significance of 'bad information' (and
on user acceptance) is anecdotal. As with the print environment
there is disagreement about how to categorise problems
and few resources for a comprehensive tabulation.
Parental perceptions vary. One 2008 survey by Common Sense Media
and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center noted that 75% of surveyed
US parents agreed that a facility with digital media was
as "beneficial" to kids as reading and math
(83% said it was critical to success) but 67% said they
did not think the net taught kids how to communicate,
75% thought it did not teach kids how to be socially responsible
and a 87% said it did not help them learn how to work
Historical perspectives on literacy are offered here
as part of discussion of reading, readership and the book.
Questions of readability are examined here,
along with pointers to works such as Literacy Theory
in the Age of the Internet (New York: Columbia Uni
Press 1998) by Todd Taylor & Irene Ward, Popular
culture, New Media & Digital Literacy (London:
Routledge 2004) by Jackie Marsh and Information Literacy
Cookbook: Ingredients, Recipes and Tips for Success
(Oxford: Chandos 2007) edited by Jane Secker, Debbi Boden
& Gwyneth Price.
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