The Filter Bubble or the dangers of personalization

This is an idea I’ve been coming across a lot, lately: As the amount of information produced by the human race grows exponentially, making sense of it becomes harder and harder. We create tools: RSS feeds and Twitter lists and recommendation algorithms based on the things we like. And therein lies the problem: As the way we experience the internet becomes more and more personalized, a “filter bubble” forms around us. We surround ourselves exclusively with thoughts, ideas and opinions with which we already agree. We isolate ourselves from everything else. Avoiding ideas we disagree with becomes incredibly easy, practically automatic. Like someone who only watches FOX, our worldview becomes skewed. To paraphrase Eli Pariser: we’re indoctrinating ourselves with our own ideas, constructing a world from the familiar, a world in which there’s nothing new to learn.
I find that terrifying.

One of the reasons I enjoy The Coming Insurrection so much is that it introduced me to a worldview completely foreign to my own. At times, it challenges concepts that form the very basis of my reality: “Contrary to what has been repeated to us since childhood, intelligence doesn’t mean knowing how to adapt – or if that is a kind of intelligence, it’s the intelligence of slaves.” It does so powerfully and directly. I consider myself lucky to have come across it.

I love having my beliefs challenged, especially if it’s done cleverly. I yearn for it. Few experiences can compare to the wonder of suddenly acquiring a different point of view. It’s like seeing the world through new eyes. Everything I knew up until that point changes color, readjusts its shape. My very understanding of the Universe broadens. It’s an experience I actively seek out and I’d hate to one day realize that my mind has stagnated.
After all, I may not totally agree with these ideas but I’m glad I’m aware of them. That’s what it comes down to: Awareness. It’s easy, sometimes, to dismiss an entire school of thought (“Pff… Anarchists, bunch of backwards ideologues… what do they know?”) but there’s always something to learn, even if it’s just an understading of where they’re coming from. Even if it’s just the ability to verbalize my disagreement.

How, then, do we solve the issue of filter bubbles? Conceivably, there could be sites that only present ideas foreign to our own. Ironically, they would also have to be personalized…
Is it just a technological problem, then? The concept of “you might also like” applied to a different goal? “You probably won’t like…”? I’m not sure. Someone who would actually use a site like that regularly is probably someone who routinely seeks out new ideas, anyway. What about the people who have become complacent? How do we reach them?
I’m not sure. But it’s something I think about.

7 Responses to “The Filter Bubble or the dangers of personalization”

  1. marida Says:

    Αυτή την επιλογή νομίζω την κάνει ούτως ή άλλως αυτόματα το ανθρώπινο μυαλό, ανέκαθεν. (Μου θυμίζει και από το λόγο του David F. Wallace, το περιστατικό που συζητούσαν ο άθεος με τον πιστό…)
    Το πρόβλημα, λοιπόν, είναι ότι το ίντερνετ το ενισχύει ακόμα παραπάνω; Γιατί με το ζόρι κανενός την οπτική δεν μπορείς να αλλάξεις ούτε να διευρύνεις…

  2. dukeoglue Says:

    Εκ των πραγμάτων, οι άνθρωποι βλέπουν τα πράγματα μέσα από τη δική τους, προσωπική, σκοπιά. Η διαφορά, για μένα, έγκειται στο να περικυκλώνεσαι μόνο από φωνές που συμφωνούν μαζί σου. Σταδιακά καταλήγεις πως “όλοι έτσι πιστεύουν”. Αποκτάς την αίσθηση πως οι απόψεις σου είναι πολύ σπουδαιότερες και οικουμενικότερες απ’ότι είναι στην πραγματικότητα.
    Είναι σαν να μη συναντιούνται ποτέ ο άθεος με τον πιστό.

  3. marida Says:

    Ευτυχώς, λοιπόν, που υπάρχει και ο πραγματικός κόσμος για να κάνει αυτή τη δουλειά; Αλλά και πάλι ακόμα και κει, επιλέγοντας πού θα πας επιλέγεις έμμεσα και με ποιους θα είσαι… Οπότε πάλι καλά που έχουμε να πηγαίνουμε σε κάποια μέρη υποχρεωτικά, γιατί έτσι υποχρεωνόμαστε να συναναστρεφόμαστε κάποιους θέλοντας και μη; Και δεν μπορεί, όλο και κάποια άλλη οπτική θα αισθανθούμε…
    “And again, I think it’s much more important for people who won’t go out of their way to seek dissenting opinions than for people who do it anyway.” Is it? That’s why I said that noone’s view can be changed or widened unless he himself is willing to do that. It is impressive how much we can distort or overlook anything to fit our view.
    ( Should I translate everything I wrote in english? )

  4. dukeoglue Says:

    No, you needn’t (^^).
    We’re touching upon 2 different topics: First is the fact that reality (and truth) is subjective. Second is whether it’s good, in general, for people to come across a wide range of opinions.

    I don’t disagree on the fact that people tend to cling to their established positions. That’s exactly why I say that if you allow them to create an environment where they don’t even hear about different opinions, where they’re surrounded with people who agree with them, it becomes even worse.

  5. BunnyDee Says:

    Yup, the Invisible Sieve article, from The Economist, is the thing that came straight to my mind as I read your introduction here. As did the other article I saw (shared by the same person, on Google Reader, yesterday), which talked, among other things, about the logic behind Google’s page rank. It’s things like that which draw upon humanity’s tendency towards what is known that turns away that awesome sense of novelty, it’s true. But, still, I deeply feel that the Internet offers so many new experiences, so much fresh knowledge and countless chances for what we hold as true to be challenged, for it to be ‘dangerous’ in that respect.

    If we take this as something to look out for, we can easily just choose to draw knowledge from different sources, if we wish to keep the belief-challenges coming, I think. Unless, of course, we’re too used to knowledge being served to us, so that would be too much of a hassle, eh? 😉

  6. dukeoglue Says:

    Do you, though? Regularly “draw knowledge from different sources”? When did you last read an article you disagree with instead of just closing the tab after the first paragraph?
    One could argue that one paragraph is enough to create awareness of opposing opinions but… I’m not absolutely convinced. The Internet is full of wonderful things, but it loses much of its potency if I’m only experiencing my own personal slice.
    And again, I think it’s much more important for people who won’t go out of their way to seek dissenting opinions than for people who do it anyway.

  7. João Pereira Says:

    I think if people don’t go out of their way much to seek dissenting opinions, the fundamental reason relies on education. This is of course a massive subject, and regarding this particular issue maybe the Internet is just boosting the problem. However, it is at least interesting to consider a solution based again on the Internet to fight this kind of behavior.. And just now I learned something new 🙂