In a good NYT analysis today, Quentin Hardy makes noteworthy points about Internet companies and their place in the world. Internet "builders of the technology barely understand the effect they are having, the regulators of the status quo can seem clueless" is the most succinct statement of how technology, the market, law and user experience interact at this time in history.
The famous, or infamous, Google motto is contextualized as fun bordering on arrogance of youthful technological pioneers and not a clear statement on how a publicly traded company operates in early twenty-first century global society. The power of technology is clear: E-Bay turns a commoner into an international trader. Amazon makes published writers of us all. But so is the power relationship between an Internet mogul and a customer disclosed as distinctly unequal not merely in financial resources but in the ability to shape the meaning of social relations and cultural experiences of privacy, qualities dear to the phenomenology of citizenship and personal concepts of individuality.
Hardy ends with this interesting statement: “There should be an industry group that discusses overall issues around data and privacy with political actors. Something that convinces them that you are good guys, but gives them a place to swoop in.”
It exists already if you treat the term "industry" lightly, in higher education. There are scores of very smart, earnestly insightful and appropriately critical perspectives on these matters alive and well today in our colleges and universities. Oh right! Those same institutions that politicians deem sufficiently vulnerable as to turn into political footballs this season. A pity … but an opportunity. If thought about what all of this technological changes means to social relations, to governance, to the marketplace, to you and me and everybody in between, then may I recommend that higher education engage this community, and this community of people hungry for ideas and explanations engage the scholars. Not only will higher education move out of the political shadows but demonstrate its value, its deep, enduring and meaningful potential value in global society.