Sunday, May 26, 2013
#146 / The Filter Bubble
Our contact with "reality" is ever more mediated by machines, and particularly by different types of computers. Most of us don't think about it much, or at all, but we are not, individually, the ones who program what we see, as we browse the internet to find information of importance.
This article (click the link) addresses the issue, and was most recently updated on June 21, 2011, which makes the discussion in the article about two years old. It definitely helps illuminate some of the key questions. Eli Pariser's book, The Filter Bubble, mentioned in the article, provides a more extensive discussion. In fact, large corporations like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, or Microsoft (or name your favorite search engine) are deciding what "realities" we find when we search for information on the internet. We don't get everything, and we don't decide ourselves how our search results are filtered.
Speaking for myself (and maybe for you), my initial contact with "reality" often does comes from an internet search. The fact that I am getting "steered" to certain information, and don't get pointed to all information on the topics I care about, does cause me some concern. Obviously, the "commercialization" of the internet search function is one issue, but my concerns are even greater when I consider the political implications of the "directed search."
A recent article (published on The Atlantic Cities website on May 17, 2013) notes that the Google Maps application is now, or shortly will be, configuring our access to the geographic and physical realities we search for on the same principle that search engines have been using vis a vis our information inquiries. Again, this does seem of concern, since we are now ever more frequently gaining access to the realities of our world by going to a search engine first. Instead of walking down a street, looking for a place to buy a bagel, we go where our cell phone directs us. All very helpful, but we might miss some things along the way!
I doubt I am about to give up using internet search. It's just too helpful and useful (filtered or not). Being aware that our search results are filtered, of course, can help offset the "steering" function that our search engines are providing. Realistically, however, that isn't much of a solution.
Is there a solution?
In fact, probably not, and even before internet search it was true that our interaction with "reality" is always "mediated," or "filtered" by something - including, notably, by our socioeconomic status. We can, though, do two things that might be helpful: (1) Talk with, meet with, and interact with real people all the time (all kinds of people, and not just "friends," of the Facebook variety or otherwise). In addition (2), we can physically walk around this world of ours, and the Natural World that surrounds and sustains it.
"Reality" is not found on the internet, but in the world of people and things that have physical presence.
If you are looking for a bagel shop, though, I wouldn't forego an internet search.