After having spent the past several days moving out of my apartment in Vancouver it feels like PUB 802 was so long ago. The content of this course was something that I was already enthusiastic about and had a basic working knowledge of many concepts, however the discussions that occurred both in class and within the online annotations certainly pushed my thinking and challenged my beliefs.
I spend a considerable amount of my leisure time watching educational YouTube videos including video series about the history of the internet, intellectual property, and machine learning. As these were topics that were discussed within the course, this prior exposure to concepts allowed me to contribute during class discussion as well being able to share these resources with classmates within annotations as well as in the MPub facebook group. The fact that I regularly seek out this type of information for fun shows that this content is something that I have a keen interest in and am consistently looking to further expand my understanding. This course provided additional resources to continue to learn about these topics and to build upon my existing knowledge.
There were times throughout the course that my opinions and believes were challenged. There were two areas that pushed my beliefs the most, the first was digital tracking. Prior to this course I was aware of digital tracking however I was not of the opinion that this digital tracking was wrong, something to be alarmed by, or that this data could be used in malicious ways. After news of the Cambridge Analytica scandal first broke it caused me to reflect on how this information could be used and for what purposes. I had previously thought of digital tracking to be solely for the purposes of marketing and advertising. While it is sometimes unsettling to see an ad for the pair of shoes you were just browsing for on Amazon, there is nothing inherently nefarious about Google Ads. I was surprised by the sheer number of my classmates that had installed different ad blockers on their web browsers because I firmly believed that ad blockers were morally repugnant and punishing online content creators for not wanting their content to be placed behind pay walls. What pushed my thinking was the sheer number of trackers that were installed on websites and how the information they were harvesting could be used to influence politics. This use of digital tracking is something that I find much more unsettling than Google Ads and while I am not about to install an ad blocker onto my web browser, the discussions in this course have resulted in me installing Ghostery and thinking more critically about the potential for digital tracking. Another topic in the course that has challenged my thinking is the idea that companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple (GAFA) alter people’s consumption habits. While I was willing to admit that these companies had a tremendous amount of influence over people I had not considered how Amazon opening a physical retail location was for the purpose of shaping people’s shopping habits to better suit the business model of Amazon. Unlike my thoughts on digital tracking this was nothing something that I had a firm stance that was contrary to the course discussions, but rather that it was not something that I had considered as motivation prior to PUB802.
Both of the topics that challenged my thinking the most within the course are areas that I would consider to be the somewhat alarming reality of how technology (and giant tech companies) shape and influence individuals. My first blog post in this course rejected Adam Gopnik’s categories of “Never-Betters”, “Better-Nevers”, and “Ever-Wasers”. While I did not align myself within a particular category, and I still believe that people’s interactions with technology is a spectrum and cannot be easily fit into three neat categories, I would consider myself to be between the Never-Betters and the Ever-Wasers at the start of the course. I still maintain a level of optimism that I think it a defining feature of the Never-Betters, however this course has caused me to reconsider certain areas and as a result I have moved more towards a more realist understanding of technology and therefore am closer to the Never-Betters on the spectrum that I was in January.