All the News that Fits You, We Print

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.

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3 Responses to “All the News that Fits You, We Print”

  1. chosenrebel Says:

    Sounds like a great way to confirm people in their present prejudices and conceits. But with a little tweaking, they could easily move toward Orwell’s 1984. Don’t know which is worse. More reason to develop real, substantive biblical discernment.

  2. James Swenson Says:

    You can see Pariser give a 10-minute talk about this at TED: it’s linked above, or Google “Pariser TED,” or go to http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

    I cannot praise the TED Talks highly enough… Wow!

  3. James Swenson Says:

    In the online discussions I’ve read around this issue, a lot of people seem to have missed the point that I think you’re making. There are a lot of demands for Google to stop “being evil,” and just give us the unfiltered information. If (per impossibile) this were done, drinking from a fire hose would pale in comparison.

    I’m a person who works with information. Google has changed my life, and the reason is exactly that they filter information effectively, so that the top-ranked result is very likely to be what I want. Pariser, though, is correctly drawing attention to the fact that in some parts of my intellectual life, I shouldn’t always get what I want — so that I can sometimes get what I need.

    And Minnesota is an exceptional place. [Dang it! Couldn’t resist.]

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