“The Filter Bubble,” a 2011 book by Eli Pariser, is an interesting read arguing that core to the business model of both Facebook and Google is a drive for personalization – making content fit you.
If you are a Google and/or Facebook user (and lets face it, who isn’t?) then a large amount of information you get is decided by the Google and Facebook gods. That’s right, what turns up in your news feed, which pizza place is “A” on Google Maps, which search results turn up top 10, which friends are “attending” events, and so on are all a function of the gods.
Ok, ok, not gods. Rather, algorithms which calculate what information is best suited to your query, what information the algorithm writers think will be most useful to you. How do these algorithms do it? Well the trend, as Pariser points out, is through personalization. They keep track of who you are based on past online actions, where you log in from, what kind of computer you use, etc. Essentially they take trace data (all that info you send or save) and draw a picture of who they think you are. Then they give you information based on that picture.
This means you only get what they think fits your image, everything else is filtered out. As a result you get stuck in a bubble which is problematic for young professionals who want to engage with many new people on various topics (thats what those hours at networking events are for after all!), and for innovators who rely on diverse inputs – some of the best ideas come from overlap of very different things, etc.
Google your Soul?
Think for a second about all the information attached to the online you. You likely have a Google account containing information about what you have searched, saved emails, a friend list with locations. You almost certainly have a Facebook account, and maybe LinkedIn and Twitter all with information about your current and past profession, education, location, friends, family, interests, favorite quotes, community service activities. But you are well aware of this, so aware in fact that you likely curate this online existence, untagging photos, carefully selecting a profile picture, highlighting particular attributes — been to 30 countries? what an adventurous and outgoing girl! — favorite quote a philosopher? He must be a thinker.
While crafting the image of the you other people see online is becoming the norm, what is less visible is what that image then means for you. As the filter bubble goes, what you put out there is fed back to you. Those Google gods, the algorithms, they take information you put out about yourself and use it to frame all the information they send back your way. You are the god – a powerful position to hold, information comes to you as if it were made for you. But you are also the limit – you inadvertently restrict that information in way which may not always be to your liking.