A couple of weeks ago when the Ted Talk called Beware Online “Filter Bubbles” was first delivered, I saw a lot of positive chatter about it on Twitter. Then I saw it listed by The Huffington Post as one of the top talks of 2011 today so I listened.
Of course to anyone involved in social media, it was not news that Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm decides which of your friends’ updates you see based on how often and the extent to which you interact with them, and Google’s news is delivered with similar nods to your predispositions. So if your interests go to pop culture and friends you went to high school with, you see more of the same. And although Pariser, who gave the Ted talk said he liked to hear what his conservative friends said, he apparently didn’t actually click on their links, so perhaps the reality was that he wanted them in his circle but didn’t really want to hear what they said. Anyway, that’s what Facebook concluded.
Yes, your information is being filtered by Facebook and Google. And no, they are not going to change that.
When you get (or used to get) a newspaper, no one came into your living room and made you read the article on Afghanistan on the front page. No one told you not to throw out the real estate section without even looking at it. Getting it delivered didn’t make you more likely to read it. Seeing it may have made you marginally more aware of it but if there is a desire to know more, there is another way.
The filter bubble Ted talk has an important value to all of us as individuals, now that we hold the power and as long as we realize that there will always be gatekeepers. Facebook and Google are only gatekeepers if we sit on our butts figuratively at our own pages and never get up and go to the sources. Nothing is stopping you from going to your politically conservative or left wing friend’s Facebook page and seeing what she’s been up to there. Nothing is stopping you from going to the news sources you want to read and reading it there. You don’t have to wait for the news to come to you or for Google to find it for you. You might need to stay on top of what the news sources are. But that shouldn’t be too difficult.
Think about it like a big sit-down wedding party for a family member where you know maybe 60% of the people to one degree or another. You’re at table number 22. You can sit at your table for the four hour party and wait for some of the people to circulate and come to you or you can go around to the tables talking to people and saying hello to people you haven’t seen in a while, finding out what’s new. You can introduce yourself to people you don’t know—even the ones who look like you might not like them. Maybe they have odd outfits or funny haircuts but if you talk to them for a while you might learn something that can enrich your life or your opinions. If not, no problem. Maybe you’ll be happier in your bubble.
Perhaps the hosts of the party will take the time to introduce everyone at the party to everyone else. But that’s unlikely. It’s really not in their interest. Their goal is to make their party better for the celebrants. Your experience of a better party is entirely up to you.