27 May 2011

Filter Bubbles in Control?

As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there's a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a "filter bubble" and don't get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. Eli Pariser argues powerfully that this will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy.
What strikes me about this TED talk is how easy it is to create our own bubbles.  In the space of twitter, I actively follow people who consistently discuss development and aid.  My tweets and blog posts largely reach that audience, yet I worry about reaching the audience that has a passing interest.  They are the majority and the ones which have an enormous impact on the way that aid is implemented and communicated through their collective purse.

I want to be able to expand my created bubble to communicate with more and further understand what differing views exist and why they are formed.  Specifically, it interests me that some really bad aid projects get a lot of attention and support when they clearly are not doing what they claim to be doing.  Support for these projects is built on slick communications, the feeling of doing good and the creation of a greater community.  All of those things are noble, but create bubbles which do not include critical thought about the effectiveness of the programs.

To some extent we (including myself) actively create these bubbles of thought.  I would love to have more people convinced that critically looking at aid projects is a good idea and that good intentions should largely be put to the side when discussing if something actually works.  In doing so, I am creating a bubble around myself with the hope that others will join; thus not making me too different from the projects I criticize.

In this space, conversations are largely between those who are apt to using social media tools and are already actively thinking about the subject in a critical manner.  Some will enter the space when a topic or organization of interest is brought up, but the bubble exists.  Worse yet, the few that want to actively engage can feel shut off by the aid blogging and twitter clique that has emerged.

What I try to do is to actively encourage people who might not otherwise have considered engaging to do so. We need more people than myself and a few others blogging and tweeting around these topics so that the bubble, which is inevitable, will get a little bit bigger and bring in more people who can push things out a bit further. Until then, the echo chamber abounds and thought stays largely insular.