May 2004 Archives

'Let's act like sphinxes, however falsely, until we reach the point of no longer knowing who we are; for we are, in fact, false sphinxes, with no idea of what we are in reality. The only way to be in agreement with life is to disagree with ourselves. Absurdity is divine. Let's develop theories, patiently and honestly thinking them out, in order to promptly act against them- acting and justifying our actions with new theories that condemn them. Let's cut a path in life and then go immediately against that path. Let's adopt all the poses and gestures of something we aren't and don't wish to be, and don't even wish to be taken for being.

Let's buy books so as not to read them; let's go to concerts without caring to hear the music or to see who's there; let's take long walks because we're sick of walking; and let's spend whole days in the country, just because it bores us.'

Bernardo Soares, The Book of Disquiet , p.27

1.0: A Short Introduction

Few, if any, passages are able to capture the essence of what scholars today call postmodernism better than this excerpt from Bernardo Soares' Book of Disquiet.

Soares' personal circumstances intensify, if not completely enable, the author's - note that I am using a noun and not a pronoun -ability to define the 'fictionality' of the human experience.

'The amorphous and politically volatile nature of postmodernism makes the phenomenon itself remarkably elusive and the definition of its boundaries exceedingly difficult, if not per se impossible.'(Huyssen 1998:58)

In this essay I will try to review, in short, some of the main features of postmodernism- initially as a general term, and more specifically in regards to writing, and indeed reading.

Furthermore, I will examine the capacity of a text to comply with these theoretical definitions, and how this capacity works to question the postmodernity, or more accurately the non-modernity, of postmodern theory itself. To do so, I will contrast The Book of Disquiet , a literary piece hailed as 'one of the defining texts of the modern world' (Lezard 2001), and the work of Jean Baudrillard, widely acknowledged as one of the pinnacles of postmodern theory.

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Introduction
The opportunity to 'seek, receive, and impart information and ideas' is recognized by the United Nations as a paramount value. Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) proceeds to stress that people should be able to practice this right 'through any media and regardless of frontiers.'(Ibid)

The right to access diverse and accurate information lies in the foundation of a healthy society; an informed citizen is a good citizen with an ability to perform his role as part of the democratic structure.

Many factors, most of which are beyond the scope of this essay, impinge on the way information is published and gathered in our 'information society'; access to technology and the Digital Divide , media ownership, and state and international regulation have a fundamental, and often detrimental, effect on the quality and quantity of information available for public access.

The World Wide Web is more often that not regarded as an innovation with radical implications on society (Holmes 1998); in the past 10 years, countless books and articles have been written about this medium's 'boundary bashing potential' (Poster 2001 p.173).

The emergence of the internet brought new hope and was hailed by many as a truly egalitarian medium that will offer an unprecedented amount of free information, and 'build a society and an economy of greater opportunity, greater freedom, and harmony.'(Feldman 2004) The World Wide Web is quickly becoming the major source of information for citizens in western democracies, and more slowly in other developing countries.

'Services that help users find their way to content of interest are crucial to the Web's ability to be a useful tool for people', and so 'As the amount of Web content skyrocketed, search engines became increasingly important in sifting through online material.'(Hargittai 2004)

As professor Julie Cohen from Georgetown University points out, the growing use of information technologies 'enables vendors of digital content to exert tighter control over access to and use of that content'(Cohen 2001). This also increases 'control over inputs to creation and communication -- and thus over social "meaning-making processes"' (Ibid.)

Safa Rashtchy, a senior research analyst at the American Investment Bank, USBPJ, predicts that the online search market, with current revenues of almost US $2 Billion per year, will reach $7 Billion by 2007, a growth rate of 35% per annum. (Rashtchy 2003)

Unlike other traditional and new media, search engines are often regarded as agenda-free tools that can be used to find almost everything. On the surface this assumption is not un-true; search engines apparently have no editors and, at least some of them, are still owned by fairly new companies that are not related to old and established media moguls or governments.

This essay aims to put under scrutiny the current leader of the growing search engine industry- Google , and examine the possible influence it has on the way information is accessed in our day and age. This also questions the World Wide Web's ability, with Google as its primary gatekeeper, to be a revolutionary, free and egalitarian source of information.

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