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Halavais on Critical Code Studies: Code is Never Neutral

Halavais reminds us in the introduction to this book that the search engine has become such a normative part of our experience with digital technology and computers that it socializes us into believing that search engines also provide access to credible, accurate information. Said information is also best left to machines to surface, preferred before asking questions of other humans (pg. 1).

But, "This book suggests that those assumptions are dangerously flawed; that unpacking the black box of search engine is something of interest not only to technologist and marketers, but to anyone who wants to understand how we make sense of a newly networked world. Search engines have come to play a central role in corraling and controlling the ever-growing sea of information that is available to us, and yet they are trusted more readily than they out to be. They freely provide, it seems, a sorting of the wheat from the chaff, and answers our most profound and most trivial questions. They have become an object of faith" (pg. 1-2).

This is an important critique of search engines as a a screen into our own desires and serve to "shape future social values." The machine is turned to rather than the human, and yet the computer reflects human values, embedded within the technology itself.

Halavais suggests that every user of the search engine should know how the system works -- how information is collected, aggregated and accessed. Chapters 1 and 2 address search engines and how users use them. Chapter 3 covers SEO and rankings. Chapter 4 discusses the structure of the web and how it represented through search engines. Chapter 5: Censorship, 6: Privacy, 7: Sociable search (and search alternatives) and 8: Future Finding.

This book is a MUST READ for any critical code and critical search engine studies.
 

Halavais, Alexander. Search Engine Society. Cambridge: Polity, 2009.

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