Today I caught a little bit of Eli Pariser on NPR, talking about his book, The Filter Bubble. His point is that internet algorithms—he focused on Google and Facebook—invisibly tailor your internet experience to bend you toward choices you will like. That’s where the faux-NYT slogan comes from: “all the news that fits you, we print.” Google and Facebook work hard to create a custom-made universe for you—custom-made to provide, based on your internet profile, what you will like, and to hide all the rest. You don’t have a choice in it. It all happens invisibly.
In the extreme case, you will search for opinion pieces and only find those that agree with you. Or you’ll think that the only music in the universe is the type you enjoy. You can be shielded from the cruel world of difference—and you won’t really know that you are.
Of course, a lot of life is already like that, without the assistance of Google. I live on a street of people who are relatively similar to me in taste and income and education. My choice of a California residence shields me from some of the horrors of life in, say, Minnesota. (Also, from the horrors of life in Bangladesh.) I attend a church peopled by white Presbyterians, not Latino Pentecostals. I hardly know any poor people, except the children I meet when I volunteer. I’ve created a bubble of my own, and I don’t think about it very often.
Google has only managed to do for me what I would do for myself.