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COSI talk: The problem with commodifying information

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Have you ever noticed targeted ads appearing in your Facebook or Instagram feeds after searching for a particular product online? Why are textbooks so costly? Dave Ellenwood, librarian, presented The Problem with Commodifying Information at Thursday’s COSI. The word commodity brings to mind tangible goods and raw materials for sale or trade.  In the digital age this includes information, particularly your personal information. This production and circulation of information affects our daily lives. 

The participants were split into groups to answer two pointed questions about the benefits and problems with this information economy. As expected, privacy concerns were mentioned such as ICE using DMV records to arrest undocumented people. DNA collection was also discussed as a positive in that it has been used to solve serial killings and sex crimes.  

Ellenwood used the term oligopoly to describe the current state of media and academic publishing.  Five main companies control media and three major publication companies control the textbook market.

This allows the publishers control of price, ideological power, political power, and opens the door for consumer surveillance and censorship.      An open access movement is pushing back with the goal of making all scholarly publications free. In March 2019, the University of California cancelled its subscription deal with mega publisher Elsevier after months of negotiations over open access fees and paywalls.  The UC system accounted for nearly 10% of the nation’s publishing output. Is this the beginning of an open access revolution in the United States?

British Columbia is leading the way with their government agency BC campus; that has saved students millions of dollars in the seven-eight years it has been operating by replacing high-cost textbooks with OER options. Such programs expand when school administrations and instructors become involved in concerted efforts to minimize education costs. Some SCC instructors have been utilizing OER texts but we are still nowhere close to the complete open access to educational and academic resources we should have. 

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