Friday, June 16, 2006

Ask.com wins the race

Am I the only person who has recently noticed that Google has a surprising number of links to pay-per-view scholarship? That more and more pages have links to shopping baskets, selling me scholarly articles whose authors would have been flattered to distribute them for free? Google has a semi-effective option for avoiding pornography -- why not add an option to filter out teasing links that offer tidbits of information only to try to extract money for the whole story?

In 1983, I heard Stanley Cavell offer a quip about the ontological differences between television and movie screens, and it came to mind as I was hoping to reap the metaphysical benefits of reflected light by connecting my computer display to a projector. I ran a google search for further information about Cavell's position, and both articles that came up were ten years old, from secondary sources from second tier publications, and both of them wanted money. No thanks.

So who would be willing to pay four bucks for an outdated article from a mid-tier journal, written a graduate student who has long since abandonned the academic profession for a job selling insurance in Topeka, Kansas? My guess is that most of their customers are students pulling all-nighters, trying to piece together papers on moderately arcane subjects. Now, this exposes yet another flaw in our current educational system: doesn't it subvert the purpose of a grades-based system when wealthier students have fundamental advantages, even as they are half-heartedly blowing off their classes?

Bill Gates, with his alternate system of skill-based certification, is looking more and more like the white hat in the picture. Most of my lefty friends support Google and hate Microsoft. What will they say when they learn that large chunks of Google's income derive from pimping out semi-legal pornography tailored to people's fetishes, while Bill Gates is quietly using his Microsoft profits to cure AIDS? Probably many of the same things they are currently saying about Nuclear power: "Sorry that I spent ten years and thousands of hours fighting what I thought was an extreme evil, but I guess I was wasting everyone's time and I wish I could take it all back. Oops."

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