Re:search - the Personalised Subject vs. the Anonymous User

Renée Ridgway

    Research output: Book/ReportPhD thesis

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    This thesis investigates how Google Search as a ‘media a priori’ organises (us)ers by first delving into how search worked in the past, engaging former European ‘address offices’ and human endeavours that attempted to ‘organise the world’s information’. It then explains how Google search developed during the last two decades, advancing an understanding that Re:search fuses two concepts: the Scientific Citation Index (SCI) for research, which in turn served as an inspiration for the PageRank of Google Search. Using my office at CBS as a site of data collection, I designed and carried out an ‘experiment in living’, searching with Google as the ‘Personalised Subject’ and with Tor as the ‘Anonymous User’, with the same set of chosen keywords. Whilst conducting ‘interviews’ with algorithms––invisible interlocutors––I collected data on myself and produced Re:search - Terms of Art. These ‘data visualisations as transcription’ reflect my search results based on ‘locative data’ (Google) or ‘off the map’ (Tor), and these ‘critical cartographies’ as practices of representation seek to intervene and give shape to the world by making invisible infrastructures more tangible.
    Drawing on my methods I demonstrate how advertisement affects the ranking of search results and question the marketing of ‘personalisation’ as authenticity, along with showing how unique results are determined by signals that comprise its proprietary algorithm––the machine-learning RankBrain, which enables its authorship. The study then ‘reimagines search’ by exploring the boundaries of anonymity online through ethnographic studies and the search engines of the Dark Net, along with the p2p technologies (encryption) that enable it, such as Tor. Applying the IP (internet protocol) address as an organisational hinge and by way of a comparative analysis and a diagram, the effects of search engines on (us)ers are structured into ‘collaborative collectives’– –‘subjectivities of search’ and ‘agencies of anonymity’––according to degrees of human-algorithmic interaction. After revealing data profiling and collaborative filtering technologies, I then elucidate how Google Search organises (us)ers, facilitated by the social constellation of ‘surveillance capitalism’, with its extraction of behavioural data and selling of prediction products.
    The thesis builds upon findings of how digital media are habitual, enacting behaviours in (us)ers with ‘ubiquitous googling’ of omnipotent platforms, which advances recent research on the epistemological and political challenges of ‘mediality’. The analysis and discussion additionally contribute to the technological condition of the ‘media arcane’––how human algorithmic interaction, or ‘cyberorganization’ is an invisible and ‘intransparent’ process. Furthermore, it expands the debate on reimagining search, merging media theory with the work of privacy and anonymity scholars as well as encryption techniques and practices of intervention through human agency. Lastly, I introduce an interdisciplinary methodological framework that contributes to the project of understanding (Post)Digital Cultures through prescriptive, inscriptive and transcriptive technologies, situated within three disciplines: organisation studies, media theory and artistic research.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
    PublisherCopenhagen Business School [Phd]
    Number of pages366
    ISBN (Print)9788775680184
    ISBN (Electronic)9788775680191
    Publication statusPublished - 2021
    SeriesPhD Series

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