More than any other form of online activity, the practices of online information search have been overwhelmingly associated with their straightforward utility and with the potential alterations in the socio-economic structure that the access to this information, or lack thereof, entails. However, even when afforded such an apparently instrumental role, several important elements of the Internet are based on, and oriented towards, culture, identity and collectivity, and relate to a symbolically un-fragmented system that remains largely unconscious. In this paper we appropriate the concept of ontological security to explore the autonomy of the cultural dimension of online search, which has gone largely unanalysed in the literature. Ontological security is the unconscious sense that individuals have about the continuity and order in events related to their lives. At the collective level, it relates to the stability of the symbolic structures of society, which are both inclusive and exclusionary. Through a series of qualitative and quantitative empirical exercises, we show that search engines (1) construct ontological meaning as much as they provide utility, (2) relate to unconscious individuation even more strongly than rational instrumentality and (3) help in dealing with existential questions about the informational chaos of reality generated during the realization of global events. Even in the seemingly individualistic information society, search brings a clearer sense of the position of the subject in relation to the collectivity.
Mendeley saves you time finding and organizing research
Choose a citation style from the tabs below