In his initial New Horizons column in EDUCAUSE Review, Mike Caulfield asked: “Can Higher Education Save the Web?”1 I was intrigued by this question since I often say to my students that the web is broken and that the ideal thing to do (although quite unrealistic) would be to tear it down and start from scratch.
I call the web “broken” because its primary architecture is based on what Harvard Business School Professor Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism,” a “form of information capitalism [that] aims to predict and modify human behavior as a means to produce revenue and market control.”2 Web2.0—the web of platforms, personalization, clickbait, and filter bubbles—is the only web most students know. That web exists by extracting individuals’ data through persistent surveillance, data mining, tracking, and browser fingerprinting3 and then seeking new and “innovative” ways to monetize that data. As platforms and advertisers seek to perfect these strategies, colleges and universities rush to mimic those strategies in order to improve retention.4
That said, I admit it might be useful to search for a more suitable term than “broken.” The web is not broken in this regard: a web based on surveillance, personalization, and monetization works perfectly well for particular constituencies, but it doesn’t work quite as well for persons of color, lower-income students, and people who have been walled off from information or opportunities because of the ways they are categorized according to opaque algorithms.