I recently read The Filter Bubble – What the Internet is hiding from you by Eli Pariser. As you’re probably aware, Google looks at your search
history and takes it into consideration in subsequent queries. While over time our search becomes refined and personalized, Pariser argues that this happens at the expense of making our world view increasingly myopic. If you’re a card carrying member of the NRA, for example, you’re more likely to see content with conservative values than your liberal friend. This ‘filter bubble’ is facilitated by megasites like Google, Amazon and Facebook. We also create our own bubb
Pariser argues: “personalization filters serve up a kind of invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desire for things that are familiar and leaving us oblivious to the dangers lurking in the dark territory of the unknown.” Yikes.
The Filter Bubble offers passing lip service to the glaring reality that we’ve always lived by the filter. As a child, The Boston Globe and Walter Cronkhite decided for us what was important. And who would ever argue that the New York Times isn’t a filter? Admittedly we can refine our inputs now like never before, the point remains that biased curation may not necessarily be a novel concept.
And Pariser makes certain assumptions about the searching public. He sees the search world as made up of iterant intellectuals looking to create epic change for humanity. In fact, most of us are just looking for a cheap flight. While I like to see myself as something of a flaneur, I don’t consider my serendipity Google’s responsibility.
While filtration and curation will become increasingly important going forward, The Filter Bubble sheds light on the tension between our drive to create a refined signal and the need to see the world for what it is. This book has made me think about the bubble that I have created for myself (in fact, when I finished the book I immediately felt the urge to renew my subscription to The Economist – love the way it renders on my iPad).
I found this quote to be important:
“Ultimately, democracy works only if we citizens are capable of thinking beyond our narrow self-interest. But to do so, we need a shared view of the world we cohabit. We need to come into contact with other peoples’ lives and needs and desires. The filter bubble pushes us in the opposite direction—it creates the impression that our narrow self-interest is all that exists. And while this is great for getting people to shop online, it’s not great for getting people to make better decisions together.”
Despite my spotty criticism, The Filter Bubble is a very important book. I highly recommend it.
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