Technology

How Our Computer Overlords Shape Global Culture

Photo: josholalia Each year, our computer overlords play a larger role in everyday life. Computer programs help people make decisions by following programmed algorithms. Search engines, and the robots that inform them, are prime examples of computer progr

posted on 04/20/2012
Joseph Dunsay
Scribol Staff

RobotPhoto: josholalia

Each year, our computer overlords play a larger role in everyday life. Computer programs help people make decisions by following programmed algorithms. Search engines, and the robots that inform them, are prime examples of computer programs that guide people. Consumers are more likely to view a website if a search engine ranks it high in the search results. And website producers design sites to rank high in search results so that they attract more visitors. This synergy gives subtle power over content consumption and production to our computer overlords.

HTML CodePhoto: Sebastian Fuss

It is common for a modern website to rely on multiple computer languages so it can display compelling internet content. HTML forms the meat of a website, the CSS file creates a stylish skin, and scripts in other languages add spice to the design. Search engine robots, such as Googlebot, read webpages and tell search engines what those webpages are about. Search engines use that information to rank webpages after a keyword search.

HackathonPhoto: HackNY.org

A website producer can select keywords that will lead potential visitors to its website when the would-be viewers search for those words. The ideal keyword is trendy enough for potential visitors to search but not so cliché that too many other websites contain it. The producer can then increase the ranking of a webpage in the search results for those keywords by applying search engine optimization. An MIT webpage explains search engine optimization techniques. Some techniques, such as putting the keywords in a meta tag, are invisible to viewers. Other techniques are apparent to astute readers.

Stone WriterPhoto: takomabibelot

An internet writer can craft an article for higher search result rankings just like a novelist can write a book to please book reviewers. In both cases, the writer sacrifices some control over their art or craft in exchange for free advertizing. The suggestions from MIT include techniques that appear in the text of a webpage. Search engines give keywords more weight if they are bold, emphasized, or repeated. However the author must make sure that the keywords still flow naturally in the text so that the search engine does not dismiss their webpage as spam.

Server FarmPhoto: Simon Law

Because countless authors adjust their writing to accommodate search engines and their robots, these computer programs shape global online culture. Algorithms might perhaps be viewed as the new cultural gatekeepers in the online world. Some may feel shock and dismay in discovering that their internet experience is partially dictated by computer overlords. Others have learned the advantages of obeying our computer overlords.

Joseph Dunsay
Scribol Staff