The Unconnected Spaces

In the chapter titled “Networks”, Galloway notes that graph theory does not take into consideration the spatial configuration of nodes, as graphs with the same set of edges are considered isomorphic (identical graph structure). As a result, the gaps delimited by nodes and edges are not taken into consideration. In a similar way, persons who browse the internet using search engines are restricted to the paths provided by the search engine. It is not possible to search the gaps, and the search engine does not even necessarily acknowledge that there are gaps.

There are a variety of technical reasons for why content may not readily appear in a search engine’s results page, based on the manner in which the website is constructed (flash sites might be passed over), or the keywords used. However, there are also social and economic reasons for the graph pruning (to stick with Galloway’s graph theory analogy) which search engines regularly employ. For purely economic reasons, search engines offer preferential placement for those who are willing to pay, giving particular websites priority in particular searches. In 2012, Google revised its search algorithm to make porn more difficult to find (article here). Furthermore, based on previous searches, google can rank websites according to our inferred personal preferences since 2009 (article here).

Although I use these services frequently and often rely on them to provide information on a given topic, I don’t often consider the unconnected spaces of the web that may be excluded from a search. I take for granted the fact that google search is exhaustive, and correctly prioritized (no one has time to go through hundreds of results pages). And for the most part, it seems like this is the case, as I can often find what I am looking for. However, this mediated way in which we interact with the web invariably has its consequences, as we don’t really know what is lurking beneath the surface.

Undoubtedly, having large monopolies virtually owning our internet browsing habits is dangerous, yet convenience and efficiency continually lure us into net. The power of the network is unparalleled, allowing efficient transfer of information between several connected entities. Yet we should be very careful with the assumption that our connectivity is infinite and far reaching. There are limitations to what can be connected to any network based on its characteristics. And we have seen these limitations in plain sight in previous generations, as it has been made clear that knowing the right people (networking) allows access to the best opportunities. In decades past, there was an explicit acknowledgment that there were spaces unreachable by the network. The present is characterized by buzzwords which implicitly suggest that no space is unreachable and that no person is unconnected. Despite the fact that these claims are somewhat believable, they are not true. And when we forget about these unconnected spaces, we lose something important.

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