The Filter Bubble

By , May 24, 2014

My low expectations for Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You (2011) were met and exceeded.  Although the discussion was somewhat repetitive, it was generally entertaining and engaging.

The author clearly explains the danger posed by the combination of our desire for personalization, plus advertisers’ desire for precision targeting.

 “You live in an equilibrium between your own desires and what the market will bear.” (p.215)

That danger is the risk that we will lose “serendipity,” as our technological tools (including Facebook and Google) seek to identify and present only the content which it knows we will be interested in, reducing or eliminating the opportunity to be exposed to new information, new ideas, and other viewpoints.

“[T]he experiences we have when we come across new ideas,people, and cultures are powerful. They make us feel human. Serendipity is a shortcut to joy.” (p.224)

Pariser acknowledges that others have warned about this before, including Cass Sunstein in his book, Republic.com (which I reviewed here a dozen years ago).  (Indeed, it was serendipity — while wandering aimlessly in a bookstore — that led me to find Sunstein’s book, and thus to discover his misguided belief that government intervention would likely be required to avoid isolation in “enclaves.” Pariser reports that Sunstein has retreated from that suggestion.)

When I reviewed Republic.com, I believed that most consumers, or at least enough of us to matter, would actively seek out novel and different ideas.

But Pariser convinces me, in The Filter Bubble, that even the most thoughtful citizens, seeking to maintain regular exposure to new and different content and viewpoints, might be thwarted by the very tools we use to filter the flood of information.

I noticed that the book’s subtitle was changed for the paperback edition, to The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think.  I think I understand why: saying that “the internet is hiding stuff” isn’t quite fair — but I’m not sure the change was helpful.

I am also halfway through Clay Johnson’s book, The Information Diet: A Case for Conspicuous Consumption (2012).

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