Eli Pariser's The Filter Bubble: Is Web personalization turning us into solipsistic twits?

The thinking behind the news.
June 10 2011 7:16 AM

Bubble Trouble

Is Web personalization turning us into solipsistic twits?

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Pariser is also dead wrong, it seems to me, in assuming that personalization narrows our perspectives rather than broadening them. Through most of history, bubbles have been imposed involuntarily. Not so long ago, most Americans got their news primarily through three like-minded networks and local newspapers that reflected a narrow consensus. With something approaching the infinite choices on the Web, no one has to be limited in this way.  Why assume that when people have more options, they will choose to live in an echo chamber? A couple of studies have shown, for instance, that conservative and liberal bloggers link to each other to a surprising degree. If you want to get all your news from Glenn Beck and right-wing talk radio, you can do that, too.  But my own experience is that personalization, where it works effectively, means more diversity of sources and views. Thanks to Twitter, I learn about the revolutions in the Middle East via Arab activists and writers, not just from American foreign correspondents.

If our society is experiencing a "filter bubble" at the moment, it's probably a financial rather than intellectual one, as too much investment is directed at tools to manipulate content, and not enough at publishers who create it. But if you're losing sleep about Google giving you a skewed, blinkered perspective on the world, there's a very simple solution. You can shut the customization feature off.