With Google’s latest foray into socializing the web with Google Plus, Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble comes at a good time.
The book examines how personalizing search results is affecting not only our ability to find things faster on the web, but also how we actually think.
Personalization Narrows Minds
What Pariser says is we are increasingly becoming locked into our own invisible information bubbles. What we see in our search results depends on Google’s assumptions about where we live and what we like and do — all based on our previous patterns of searching and using the Internet.
Local Search Saves Time
That’s why my search results on a particular topic are probably not the same as yours. For example, if I’m looking for a plumber in Toronto, I don’t need to see a list of plumbers beyond the Toronto area.
This is all good.
But personalized search can also narrow our minds and reinforce our intellectual, political and religious biases. And this without our even knowing it. As Pariser points out, “Because you haven’t chosen the criteria by which sites filter information in and out, it’s easy to imagine that the information that comes through a filter bubble is unbiased, objective, true.
But it’s not.
In fact, from within the bubble, it’s nearly impossible to see how biased it is.” His example of two friends searching for information about BP is illuminating. While one saw news results related to the BP spill, the other saw BP investment information.
Now Google has its own social networking service, Google Plus. Its main distinguishing factor from Facebook is the small group function that doesn’t require “friending” and sharing with all your other friends. It also builds on its Gmail and business apps with group text messaging and video chat hangouts.
Information Sharing or Information Collecting?
Why Invade Facebook’s Turf? For one thing, Google hopes to create a more intimate, natural kind of sharing than friend requests and share broadcasting. More importantly, Google hopes to be able to learn even more about individual Google users to be able to personalize all Google products even more.
But, as Pariser, asks will all this personalized filtering end up narrowing our grasp of the world? Will we become more obsessed with our narrow prejudices and find only ideas and community that will not expand or challenge what we like or think? Will, as he says, each of us “get stuck in a static, ever-narrowing version of yourself – an endless you-loop” that results in “a kind of global lobotomy instead”?
Is Personalized Search Leading to Global Lobotomization?
What do you think about how search is becoming based more on our personal preferences than on the world around us? Let me know what you think in a comment below.