The Seattle Times had an article this weekend on “How ‘search’ is redefining the Web — and our lives.” It is a well-written piece and provides a succinct history of the search engine industry, but ,as is typical, these kinds of articles are a little too triumphant when it comes to the role of search engines in our society.
For example, claims that search engines are “crucial to fulfilling a basic human need — the quest for information” ignores the broader epistemological consequences of relying on search engines for the acquisition of knowledge.
Significant privacy and ethical concerns surround the latest push towards personalized searches and other individualized services offered by search engine companies. While the article makes a passing mention to the growing “concerns about privacy and security,” the author fails to critically engage with the notion that search engine companies increasingly “own a growing archive of the human race.”
(Towards the end of the article, mention is made of how “A Seattle man’s spicy online personal ads from 1996 are easy to find nine years later” – hardly the greatest threat from the wealth of personal information made available via search engines).
The article does close on some interesting speculation as to the future of search engines: “So where does search go from here? Some experts say the technology will jump digital boundaries from the browser to other platforms. Its next stop is the cellphone; in the future, television.”