Continuing from my post yesterday that spoke largely of one specific area, that one being politics, and how we increasingly only hear what we want to hear (What Algorithms Do Not Know and What We Do Not See) because of the web and its intense focus on personalization …This is an issue much broader than the political realm. It is everything.
This personal web experience alters what see (and know) about the world around us. Inevitably, it narrows our worldview. As an example, I have found in the last few years my search results increasingly lacking.
I can tell by those results I get that they have been tailored for me (to use a term often used in describing personal results). More and more often now, they are not what I am looking for and I find them frustrating. I end up trying numerous variations of the search but often have no luck.
It is as if the wide open world has closed up and what was once a wide ranging landscape has been cordoned off to a much smaller area.
One of the troubling consequences of this is that we do not know what we do not know. I wrote about this back in 2009 saying, “…sometimes I don’t realize I’ve been looking for something until I find it.” (See, Algorithms and the Search for Happy Accidents.)
I call them happy accidents because in the past I have found intriguing things online simply by getting a much broader range of results. If you don’t know something exists, how can you search for it? If you haven’t got something in your profile that indicates an interest, something in the oodles of data companies amass on each of us, how will it ever show up?
It won’t. And because it won’t you may never know about it even though, if you were to stumble upon it, it might be one of the most interesting things you’ve come across. It may open up an entire new dimension to your life, if you only knew about it.
In my 2009 post I asked for (and still do) an option that allows a person to turn the personalization off. I don’t ask for it to be eliminated, just for an ability to toggle between two views of whatever the particular platform happens to be.
Without a means to see the world as it is, rather than how we would have it be, we live in an isolationist, even xenophobic bubble that has no resemblance to reality.
There is a TED video by Eli Pariser, “…author of “The Filter Bubble,” about how personalized search might be narrowing our worldview”. It’s from 2011 and it articulates the problem very well (You can read the transcript here):
Is this a problem? Yes. What we see online is growing isolationism, tribalism, and the closing of minds. Pariser puts it well in his conclusion when he says, “We need it [the Web] to introduce us to new ideas and new people and different perspectives. And it’s not going to do that if it leaves us all isolated in a Web of one.”
We will cease to discover. We won’t encounter views that conflict with our own. It will be as if we are in a courtroom listening to one of two sides present their argument and never hear the opposing side’s.
Our world(s) will get much smaller.
- What Algorithms Do Not Know and What We Do Not See
- Algorithms and the Search for Happy Accidents
- What We See Dictates How We See It