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Philosophy Friday: Google and You!

Posted Friday, April 29th, 2011 Tagged:

What search engine do you use primarily? Bing? Yahoo? Lycos? Probably not, like most people you probably use Google search.  Google processes several hundred million queries per day through its various services.  Google is really the front-runner of search engines as well as a huge player in various other free services like email, blogging, translating services, document sharing, etc.  Since Google is such a big player in the internet game, it is crucial that we ask, where does our data go?  It’s easy to think that once you enter your search terms and click “Google Search” that’s it, but Google wouldn’t pass up on all your data!  What you search for, what website you choose from the search results, and your IP address is all stored and analyzed to learn how to best serve its users.  Though don’t become too paranoid, because after a period of around nine months your data is “anonymized” by deleting the last eight numbers of your IP address.

Google keeps track of what you search for, no big deal right?  Well maybe, Google keeps your search terms in conjunction with your IP address and your Google account.  For Google, this means that they can keep track of trends in interest and how best to advertise to you. Have you ever noticed that after using Google for a period the ads you see around the internet seem to be specifically tailored to your interests? That is because they are!  Google uses the things that you have previously searched for to create a profile for you so that they can target the things you are interested in and advertise accordingly.

Then what does all this mean for us? Is Google some kind of “big brother” out there keeping track of the digital moves we make?  Maybe (again), Google has made it a priority to be transparent in the use of this collected data, which is why all of the information stated above can be found easily on the internet.  In addition, Google has made it a point to be as secure as possible with this data.

yes, yes I am.

 

Now for the philosophy portion of philosophy Friday.


The French philosopher Michel Foucault dedicated a large amount of time to describing the relationship between power and knowledge.  Up until Foucault, the English philosopher Francis Bacon best described the relationship between power and knowledge as “Knowledge is Power,” which has been perpetuated by programs like “School House Rock.”  Foucault mixes things up a bit by explaining a much more complicated and fluid view of power and knowledge.  Foucault explains that Knowledge and power are more closely related than that of Francis Bacon and “School House Rock” states.

Rather than looking at power as a hierarchy with knowledge being an instrument of that power, power is more of a liquid concept that has an ebb and flow between agents.  This understanding of power/knowledge means that knowledge is not a tool of power, but rather power/knowledge is inseparable.  In knowing we use power and in using power we know and produce knowledge.

How does all of this weird theory apply?  Under the Baconian assumptions about power and knowledge, the “big brother” image of Google’s data collection and data mining completely fits.  Google collects our data, analyzes it, and then uses it to be a successful search engine.  Our privacy is compromised, is in constant danger of being used in ways to harm us, and there is nothing we can do about other than some kind of complete revolution.  This understanding is normative of our society and is perpetuated by popular movies and books, like “1984” or “The Matrix.”

Foucault may not be in complete opposition with Bacon and the “big brother” image, but he does give a more nuanced and responsible view of the user’s relationship to Google.  Rather than being the victims with their privacy infringed on, there is a give and take between the user and Google.  The user produces knowledge and simultaneously controls Google and in the wake of this knowledge/power exercise by the user, Google collects the knowledge/power produced by the user and exercises the knowledge/power on their end by collecting data to better their service.  Neither has a monopoly on knowledge/power, rather both parties have each other by the throat.  Everyone could decide that they didn’t want to use Google anymore and therefore stop producing knowledge/power for Google to use reciprocally.  On the other hand, Google could be more lax with their security, be less transparent in their collection of data, and try to use knowledge/power to their advantage more.

Over all, it seems that the conspiracy and sensationalism that surrounds Google’s collection of data is a bit unfounded and unrealistic in that the relationship between Google and it’s users (or vice versa)  is a reciprocal one, that could easily be upset by either party that is involved.

 

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Greenville College IT department purchases new VX6 module

Posted Friday, April 1st, 2011

With a gracious grant from the Technology for Students Foundation, the Greenville College Information Technology department was able to purchase a slightly used VX6 module from the United States Government “old tech” auction.  With this new piece of technical equipment, the IT department will be able to increase the computational limits on all campus computers as well as process work orders up to 3 times as fast.

VX6 front end

VX modules (VX stands for Volt Xoccula) have been crucial pieces of technology in the evolution of technology on the whole.  For the uninitiated, the VX6 module may sound like a load of techno-babble, but understanding a bit about this module is fundamental in the evolution of computers and technology.   The first VX module (VX1) developed by a team Dutch engineers, led by Dr. Hans Rudolphus Knopflemeier, was designed to systematically draw correlations between various active points in a statistically unbalanced chemical markup, in order to reduce reactivity in its final solution. This is done by using deltas. The higher the delta the machine can function on, the more efficiently it can draw correlations based on corroborating separate inconsistencies in pressurized environments. In order to do this without failure, the machine must achieve its prime vector. Of course, it can also be used to solve physical logic problems, or make music and light displays from scratch.  The productions of these delta waves have been used for a wide variety of situations and experiments in the world of Engineering and the Computational sciences, such as the discovery of Yalgeth’s limit (.88 Delta), the Hans-Rodenheim Law of Vectoral Momentum, and of course the Armistan Codex.

The previously purchased VX6 module may seem like a looming mystery, but actually, the interworking’s of the device are simple enough.  The VX6 module has the aesthetics of a large computer with several interchangeable commercial parts.  The VX6 module purchased by Greenville College IT is a model XL-D430 Alpha and comes with several interesting instruments such as an Alpha Refraction Caulculator, Deconstituational Flux Valve, and most importantly, the Seperational R-Regulator (which runs at a steady 53,000 TSI).

Deconstituational Flux Valve

It is the goal of the Greenville College IT Department to use the newly purchased VX6 module as a teaching tool as well as a productive piece of the college’s infrastructure.  When the  VX6 is in use, it will  be at all times producing a minimum of .35 delta and at most .88 delta (don’t worry, silicone disruptor chip is double shielded to prevent leakage.)  Due to the standard safety procedures provided in the VX6 safety manual (V.4.1.16), authorized by the the Heinrich-Heine-University Dusseldorf Engineering department, the VX6 module can only run for a total of 98,000 cycles before it needs to have the regulatory shutdown schedule completed and the cooling mechanism cleaned.  In this down time Computer science and pre-engineering students will have the chance to observe the regulatory sanitization to the J-filter on the port side of the module.

decontinental Flux Drive

Finally, the VX6 module will provide Greenville College with a variety of new opportunities to advance scientifically and technologically.  With the VX6 module, students will be able to learn real world skills concerning the VX6 modules workability and gain experience with Marginal Spectrum Analyzer and the Telescopic Reactor Drive.  Students, make sure to sign up for available time slots for your chance at hitting .88 Delta!

 

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Dropbox, A New Way to Share Documents

Posted Monday, March 28th, 2011

Do you often times have problems transferring documents between computers?  Do you constantly email documents to yourself so that you can access your files from various computers?   Instead, try an application called Dropbox.  Dropbox is an online storage service that allows you to store data online and sync your data between computers.  The free version of Dropbox allows the user to upload 2 gigs of data to be synced between computers.

Dropbox offers a secure and easy way to transfer and backup documents between computers.  The sync can be set up between two computers or several computers; so that you and colleagues can all collaborate and be kept up to date with various revisions and updates to files.  In addition, you won’t even have to worry about always transferring the newest copy to Dropbox, because Dropbox will automatically sync whenever there is a new or recently changed file.

However, when sharing documents across a network, there is always the possibility of weighing down the network with large transfers.  Dropbox offers a great solution to this problem.  Dropbox efficiently syncs your documents with the wellbeing of your greater network in mind.  When a file is changed and synced in Dropbox, only the pieces of the file that have been changed are synced.  Also, if you are extremely conscientious with your bandwith usage, you can manually set bandwith limits within dropbox.

Dropbox is available for a variety of platforms; it can be used with and between Macs, Windows, and there is even an Iphone Dropbox app.   Or instead of using the Dropbox application you can even visit the Dropbox website and view your files online.  Dropbox offers a variety of ways you can access your files so that you can have all of your important documents with you no matter where you are!

You can download Dropbox here

 

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Foucault and the Power of Media.

Posted Friday, March 25th, 2011

On the topic of television and media in general the French Philosopher, Michel Foucault, puts forth

“What bothers me is the quality of French television. It’s true! It is one of the best in the world unfortunately!… What bothers and irritates me horribly in France, is that you are obliged to look at the program in advance to know what you can’t miss, and you have to arrange your evening as a result. And then there is Le Pain Noir on Mondays. Result: every Monday is booked up… It is this, which is the strength of television. People end up living according to its schedules. The news has been delayed by a quarter of an hour: well, you know that restaurants will see their diners arrive a quarter of an hour later.”[1]

What Foucault is getting at here, is that our society is one that is oriented by media.  Now, this quote is a bit anachronistic because rarely does one wait for a program to be aired on television anymore.  With innovations like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, and controversial technologies like BitTorrent waiting for television programs or movies to be aired has become something done by those who are less technologically savvy than us Netflix/Hulu/iTunes users.  With the aforementioned technologies, we may think that we have broken the spell the media had over us.  It may seem like now, with things like Netflix that we have the choice of when we want to watch our favorite programs.  We don’t have to wait until Sunday night to watch Doctor Who or wait until Monday night to watch How I Met Your Mother Though, I think exactly the opposite has happened, no longer does one have to wait on the television schedule that has been produced by executives of television corporations.  If anything, the incorporation of these media distribution technologies have only tightened the grip media has over our lives.

Instead of waiting for our favorite programs one can now “binge watch”[2] a series and complete the entire series in only several sittings.  Let me elaborate on the term “binge watch,” using it in a sentence will be helpful in understanding the full meaning of the phrase: “I feel like crap today, I shouldn’t have stayed up till 4:00 a.m. watching the entire season two of Battlestar Gallactica.”[3] Or “Well, I guess I could be a productive human being, but all of the seasons of Lost were just moved to instant play!”[4]

Despite the pitfalls that often come with these services, many people (i.e. me) have abandoned cable for Netflix or Hulu.  Why would one want cable when one can get the programs one wants for a lower price and no commercials?  Netflix is even pursuing producing its own original programing.[5] This will surely grow the Netflix user base as well as challenge the traditional forms of media distribution. (e.g. cable, satellite, etc)

Still, one may put forth that at least now we are consuming media on our own time.  While this occasionally may be the case, I would suggest that these various means of media distribution have permeated into avenues of distribution that transcend the comfort of one’s own couch and affect the world in several socio-economical ways.  For example, apps have been developed for smart phones, tablet computers, etc. that allow Netflix and the iTunes store to stream videos anywhere a sufficient internet connection can be found, (e.g. everywhere) or one just has to have a data plan that allows for video streaming.

It isn’t that companies like Netflix are solely responsible for this cultural change, but rather there is a complex and interwoven set of technological advances and ideological changes that have been accepted and adopted to get us where we are today. Smart Phones and tablet computers, like Netflix, are just one piece in all of this. In the quote above from Foucault, he mentions that if the news delays its broadcast, then restaurants can count on their patrons being that much later.  Now, with the constant connection that we allow ourselves to have to the internet, there is no need to wait for the news to air, just set the push notifications on your smart phone accordingly and you’ll be updated automatically.

Then, what does this mean for us?  In the style of Foucault we think of what all this means with relation to power and control.  The first thing one might notice is that by subscribing to a media distribution service like Netflix, one pays a fraction of the cost of what they would for cable television and they get no advertisements.  This may result in more consumption of media over a short period, but less influence from corporations wanting to sell their products.  However, this is not to say that consuming media and less influence from advertisements is better, just less intrusive.  This kind of consumption left unchecked can surely inhibit one’s relationship with friends and family.  The technology of being a couch potato at the professional level has developed and it has and will continue to change the way we consume media. Economically speaking, a Netflix type model of media distribution eliminates the demand for movie rental stores as well as movie theatres.  This has already had a noticeable effect on companies such as Blockbuster.

Parenthetically, this is not to say that watching media at all is bad, on the contrary, many of the programs that we watch are the ways our culture shares stories and are entertained.  These stories are produced, become popular, and become normative pieces of our cultural narrative.  One can often find a sort of genealogy through the various traces referring back to previous programs.

Finally, the way media is distributed is important and shapes the way we live and operate. Media consumption isn’t bad, rather it’s inevitable, but practicing temperance and paying attention to what we’re consuming and how it’s being distributed to us.  Even though it’s entirely possible, binge watching allows us to become detached, lazy, and irresponsible with our time and would be best avoided for the most part.

Footnotes


[1] Foucault, Michel (1994) [1975] ‘A quoi rêvent les philosophes?’. In Dits et Ecrits vol. II. Paris: Gallimard, p. 705. This passage translated by Clare O’Farrell.

[3] You should totally do this.

[4] Once again, a worthwhile pursuit.

 

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