Google-knowing economics

Long black served beautifully with lavender spring and vibrant napkin

Welcome back to my research brief series! Some how I am already a day behind schedule. Is anyone else losing their sense of time during isolation?

Today we’re looking at Dr Vicki Macknight and Dr Fabien Medvecky’s paper on ‘google-knowing’ and economics. This paper considers how knowledge is created and accessed in a digital society and reflects on how publics are made for economics. This is not an open access article! You can, however, try requesting a full version of the text from the authors via ResearchGate.

(Google-)Knowing Economics

A brief summary

Problem: What does it mean ‘to know’ in a digital age? These authors look at how individuals access information about economics via the ubiquitous search engine, Google.

Findings: Macknight and Medvecky present a novel, agent-centric approach for understanding how people gain knowledge. In the specific case of economics, they find that the field is secretive and marked by gatekeeping. They call for more accessible, meaningful efforts to make the field public.

More detail

How are topics, like economics, made visible by the internet?

More than 4.5 billion people in the world use the internet. That’s nearly 60 percent of the world’s population. The internet is a ubiquitous aspect of our lives and Google is, overwhelmingly, used by people to access information. Google processes over 40,000 search queries per second on average.

Previous research has examined how search engines impact memory, how Google impacts everyday life as well as information retrieval, and the ethics of Google autocomplete. Other researchers have investigated how online life affects knowledge-seeking behaviours of academics.

In this article, Macknight and Medvecky use an agentric-centric approach to find out how the process of ‘Google-knowing’ (or using Google to search for information) affect the way people gain knowledge. They follow the journey of an imagined google-knower as they search for information about economics over the internet.

Macknight and Medvecky document the types and themes of content within this journey. They find that economics is, as a discipline, marked by “secrecy and gatekeeping” but also by “an insistence that it is not boring.”

This journal article provides a first step in research that considers the relationship of economics and publics by painting the public picture of economics. As Macknight and Medvecky note, understanding this public picture is important because it “determines the types of relationship people are able to have with it”.

The co-authors conclude that by acting as the google-knower in this study, they gain insight into how publics are empowered (or, this in this case, disempowered) by the presentation of economics. They call for more “open, accessible, meaningful efforts to make economics public” as well as “More thoughtful, nuanced methods for looking at how things are made public in the digital age”.

Further reading

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