“Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
It has been said that your perception is your reality…but what happens when someone else or something creates your perceptions? In his TED video entitled “The Filter Bubble,” online organizer and author Eli Pariser explains how personalized Internet searches are determining our worldviews. According to Pariser there has been an invisible shift in the way the Internet provides information to us. Through sophisticated spyware fifty-seven online signals profile our web behaviors, continuously determining what is allowed and what is denied entrance into our unique “filter bubbles.” At any given time, two people seeking information on the same topic will receive different sets of information based on their Internet profiles. Does this sound like George Orwell’s Big Brother to you? It’s more like Big Brother on steroids, now global and more powerful, with farther-reaching effects on how we are wired and how we operate.
When the information playing field was more level than it is today, writers and editors, depending on their ideological slants, often injected their viewpoints into their writing, thus creating biased accounts of the same story. Informed readers knew journalistic bias existed and learned to recognize it. How does writer’s bias differ from a “filter bubble?” Many Internet users are creating their own profiles that are, in turn, biasing the information provided them. What readers reveal to Internet spyware dictates which answers are provided to their explicit requests, and often this is customized to readers’ likes or desires. Even worse, readers don’t know they are being profiled and are being denied access to information. Customized information not only solidifies our viewpoints, but also denies us exposure to differing points of view and robs us of opportunities to question, reflect upon, reject, and/or integrate them.
When you think of the impact on a nation and its youth, you have a potentially disturbing effect…groups of people solidly entrenched in their own myopic views of the world with increasingly limited exposure to information that stretches their thinking. In early human development where instant gratification is often a stumbling block to success and where the Internet has become the main source of information, social and emotional growth could be seriously interrupted by constant and immediate feedback of what a child wants to hear. Is this what employers are now dealing with in the developmentally delayed Millennial Generation that has a hard time with on the job expectations and criticisms? Is this what is happening to our polarized political parties that seem incapable of nothing more than distrusting and discrediting each other even at the expense of the country’s well-being? Take this syndrome to the global level, and you could have a potent formula for epic disasters.
Perhaps mankind’s most humane characteristic is its ability to hear what another has to say, rationally discuss it, respectfully agree or disagree, and collaborate to overcome differences. If Cyber Brothers like Facebook, Google, and others are depriving us of this opportunity by profiling and filter bubbling us, there is the possibility that we will not be able to successfully communicate and work through differences with each other in the future. Or is the future already here?