On Computational Thinking and The Internet

The first thing that came to mind when I delved into the readings this week was the phrase, “information overload.” It seemed fitting, since our topic is, in general terms, the Internet. I’ve always thought of it as some mysterious cloud constantly dumping information, like the YouTube video said, but now I know that it is actually simpler and, when used right, combats information overload altogether. I also thought it magically appeared somewhere around the 2000’s. I was surprised to see the many different iterations of computers and the Internet dating back decades.

After processing all the information in the readings, I think computers and the internet are designed in detail-oriented ways that answer problems with solutions. It’s kind of like Newton’s third law: To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Programmers input commands, and computers just do what they’re told. When you think about it that way, they don’t seem so mysterious.

These ideas matter because they can be applied to everyday life. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of research on Ancestry.com. It requires attention-to-detail, especially when you go further back in history. For example, my third-great grandfather, William Batiste, was a black man in Confederate Alabama. Around the same time, there was another black man by the same name and living in the same town, who fought in the Spanish-American War. At the time, I couldn’t figure out if they were the same man or two men with the same name. To differentiate between the two men, I first had to identify some qualifiers that would separate the men. I had two death records, one in 1916 in Alabama and one later in Chicago. Next, I searched for a 1920 census. I found one with my third-great grandmother listed as a widow. That confirmed that the Willie Batiste who died in 1916 was my third-great grandfather. The Spanish-American war veteran moved up to Chicago, where he was discharged after sustaining an injury. To get to this conclusion, I took a series of steps. I had to express the problem (identifying these men), express a solution (find a telling difference)  and then carry out the solution (input a specific search query and connect the dots), just as is shown in the model of computational thinking. 

Another thing that stood out to me was the entire WordPress philosophy. I think the developers of WordPress have a definite feel for their consumers. The general underlying theme is simplicity. The Internet is dominated by consumers. The vocal minority rule the post discusses is reflective of that. Only about 1% of Internet users are creators. However, I think that makes it a bit murky when choosing which features to develop and which comments to ignore. How do we tailor the Internet for billions of people with different perspectives? Is that responsibility on the user him/herself?

 

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