I’m reeling a little bit right now. Kinda hair-on-my-arms-standing-up freaking out. Eli Pariser has confirmed what I was always sorta kicking around in my head, but didn’t really want to think about. His new book and website, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You offer some alarming news:
There are forces at work, to which I willingly and regularly subscribe, trying to limit my ability to think for myself.
When I shared this TED talk with some of my colleagues and friends, many of them said, “Yeah, well, we knew that,” and went on with their business. And they are totally right – we did know “that,” meaning, we knew that online businesses were monitoring what we looked at, and tried to “personalize our experience” by showing us peripheral stuff in which we might be interested. What I didn’t think about was the fact that such targeting had some pretty stupefying counter effects – that our Internet surfing is now deliberately filtered to our liking.
But it’s not to my liking, and it’s not to Eli Pariser’s liking either. To me, it doesn’t feel personalized; it feels censored. As Pariser points out, his searches and his Facebook feeds are deliberately and conspicuously filtered in such a way that there is no room in his online immediate world for those viewpoints that do not fit his profile. That means his searches of everything from hobbies to political news is shown through his lens – not the opposing viewpoint’s lens.
“Big deal,” you’re thinking – and yes, it’s great to be surrounded by everything that is in agreement with how you view the world. But how do you challenge yourself? How do you truly learn what others are thinking, writing, broadcasting, feeling, creating, singing, blogging if it doesn’t align with your views? And how do you strengthen your own views if you cannot understand the opposition’s perspective? If you don’t know what you are missing, and if you don’t know to look deeper, your knowledge and thinking cannot grow.
Before you accuse me of going all Chicken Little on you, I’m not necessarily thinking about my own media consumption, because I feel like I can handle that pretty well. I am concerned about our kids. The implications that targeted searches and “personalized web experiences” have on our young people are vast.
Google is, of course, the search engine darling that we all turn to when we need a quick answer. My students turned to it first when they needed to do research. I always told my students the factoid I gleaned from my media center specialist – that they were only viewing 20% of the Internet, and that so much of what they were viewing was paid advertising. But now, to say that things are tailor-made for students might sound enticing, but as one of my colleagues, Jenny said, “If we further shrink their world by providing them with more web filters, aren’t we working against one of the best qualities of the world wide web – giving people access to information from around the world?” I don’t want our young people to become as my friend Carrie suggested- expecting information to be hand-fed to them, resulting in them forgetting how to look and be resourceful. Obviously this expands to everything beyond the Internet, too.
We don’t want to lose our ability to think creatively and deeply about the world around us.
Do you have any thoughts on this? I’d love to hear what others think.