Finding Knowledge: What Is It To ‘Know’ When We Search?

Institute of Network Cultures
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Society of the Query Reader: Reflections on Web Search, 2014, pp. 227 - 238
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The issue of the epistemological implications of our social and technical interactions with information is the subject of this essay. This will be specified by looking at the role of the search engine as an informant, offering testimonial knowledge on a query; at the question of how the receiver of testimony should be taken into account by those giving the information; and how we should deal with multiplicity of perspectives, or indeed gaps in our knowledge. We should seek to understand the nature of ‘knowledge’, and how informants – including non-human informants – mediate our understanding of the world around us, and have always done so. This essay turns to these questions, discussing some issues with researching technological changes, and then what role search functions fulfill, and how such functions affect our own understanding of ‘knowledge’. Such an analysis has profound implications, for example in education. Under what circumstances do we accept that students ‘know’ something; how we do we decide that they know (that is, how do educators claim knowledge on their student’s knowledge states); but also what sort of knowledge is important important to know in such a situation, these are all important questions. Furthermore, how we think about the future of such technology and the ways that technology might change what we know (for better or worse) is important.
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