Filter Bubble

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.
Dawn
dawn@learnersedgeinc.com

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3 Responses to Filter Bubble

  1. Patti Ross (FP’d yesterday for her Yosemite article) wrote about this recently featuring the TED youtube video. Very unsettling. My poem “Questions” (April or March) speaks to our quest for others’ perspectives. Not trying to plug…but just let you know, you’re speaking to me.

  2. Tom Butler says:

    I think your question is critical: “But how do you challenge yourself?” Because if we aren’t self-motivated to push our own boundaries, then we become the architects of our own mental imprisonment.

    People purchase magazines and newspapers (if we still read print), or pursue internet news media based on our viewpoints. This is self-imposed censorship – and why should we get upset when others assist us in our own designs. It is an effort to step outside of our comfort zone, and not everyone is willing to expend that effort. I admit that I’m not keen on the censorship imposed by this ‘internet filtering’, but I have to admit that if there is anyone to blame, it has to be me. Then again, I look at the list of news feeds I regularly read, from Al Jazeera, to the BBC, to the Times (both coasts), to ESPN, to the Onion, and wish the best of luck to any filtering tool.

    We can only be censored if we allow it to happen. The problem exists, the solution is relatively simple.

    Thanks for bringing this up. I suspect many didn’t even know this was a problem.

  3. Book Nerd says:

    The problem is that most people don’t really want to expand their viewpoints. I’ll give an example from something I’m very familiar with, bowling.
    A couple years ago on my Thursday league the owner of the bowling alley put out a tougher oil pattern. If you’re not familiar with bowling, it basically means that you don’t have as much margin for error on your shots (as an example, my average dropped from about 200 to I think 182). About 2/3 of the league complained all year long (and the people complaining were the poor bowlers, most of the better bowlers in the league enjoyed the shot).
    The point is that most people don’t want to be challenged, they want things to be given to them so they don’t have to worry about working hard or having to deal with something that might go against what they think. The reason this much censorship exists is because people don’t want to deal with opposing viewpoints or challenges.

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