I’ve been worried about this for a while now.
A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
On the one hand I really like having things tailored to my tastes and interests – and we’re getting to the point where we’ve come to expect this in every thing we do. It has it’s perks. On the other hand, it has some very disturbing implications, not the least of which is the subtle message that we, as individuals are ‘special’. Humans have a tendency to attribute intent to everything. We have a really hard time getting our heads around randomness – in other words, the idea that something could just happen, and not be because we somehow deserve it, or did something to cause it.
Little by little we are coming to believe that we, as individuals are far more important than we really are. We are getting our own personally tailored version of the web, our shopping experience, our banking experience, etc. because we deserve it. They call that narcissism. And it’s not a good thing in big doses.
The other really big problem with this is that most people do not seek out balanced perspectives. We look for opinions that support ours. It may even be a fundamental tribal imperative. The kind of tailoring that groups like Google and Facebook do foster that approach. Hell, it’s one of the big reasons that Facebook is as popular as it is in spite of the fact that the company itself has made no secret of the fact that all it really wants to do is sell our information to marketers.
“The internet is showing us a world we want to see not what we need to see”
Again, there are many positive aspects to this tribal approach. But if we use a different word to describe it, say , clique, we start to uncover the potential problem. Things quickly become narrow-minded and exclusive. This kind of approach can easily lead to a deepening of prejudices – it tends to harden an ‘us versus them’ kind of stance. It’s how cults work.
This is not good. Like Eli Pariser says, there is no functioning democracy without a balanced perspective.