Pop the bubble

We like to think that the Internet Technojungle allows access to any information we want. Is this what we actually experience? Are you getting a balanced diet of opinions and perspectives? 

The COVI-19 pandemic introduced us all to, for me anyway, a new idea—your bubble. This pandemic-based bubble idea consists of limiting the number of people you gather with, thereby reducing your possible exposure to the virus. I remember an expression that has been in use for as long as I can remember. In this case someone would say something like, “Where have you been, you must be living in a bubble?” This infers that a person is out of touch with what is going on. This is closer to what we are going to talk about, a third type of bubble—a techno-bubble.

In the last chapter I discussed a little about Internet Technojungle search engines. There is much more to consider and it can be serious. 

During the early days of the Technojungle Internet I heard it initially hailed as the great liberator of humans. Everyone could easily have access to knowledge (actually data and information) at their fingertips from all human eras and from around the world. The problem, there’s just too much information. 

I have discovered that when you search for particular information, millions of possibilities are available. What to list first as most likely to be of interest to you requires some manipulation. Enter the algorithm and AI. However sophisticated, algorithms and AI require parameters to work with. That is, they need bits of information, such as your various interests, along with what is most popular with people of similar interest groups. The number of parameters can be in the hundreds. Enter tracking and tracing. The more that is known about you and people like yourself with similar interests, the more likely the algorithms and AI will have success at listing what is of most interest and importance to you. Remember, this information is also monetized through selling of advertising. It’s the tricky business of scraping data and information from you for free and making money from it. You get paid by being bombarded with advertising that may be products and services you are interested in and by hopefully seeing information you like in your search results. 

Have you noticed that our lives are filled with tiny snippets of information? Algorithms and computer programs run best on very concise and precise snippets of information.

Can you see a huge problem here? If this technique of serving you information that interests you based on other information about you is used over and over, won’t you be fed back your own interests? In other words, doesn’t the Technojungle end up reinforcing your own worldview

This phenomenon has become known as the Filter Bubble.  It happens for just about everything you do in the online Technojungle world, and not only for searching. Essentially, you end up living in somewhat of a bubble with your own ideas and perspectives. You can become socially and intellectually isolated in your own ideals and culture apart from a more general world view. 

Another term I have found used, particularly relating to news media, is the Echo Chamber. This effect is a closed system where certain beliefs are amplified. When a person searches for information that reinforces their own beliefs a Confirmation Bias can result. People tend to ignore and not accept contrary ideas and beliefs. 

Could the Technojungle Internet be capable of being an unbiased arena of information? Does the Filter Bubble contribute to polarization and even extremism? If you use many online Technojungle services, can the resulting personalized ecosystem be used to manipulate your thoughts? How can the effects of this closed loop of information affect democracy? Can you think of other risks and outcomes?

I have been fascinated while editing during the pandemic to see the filter bubble, echo chamber and confirmation bias phenomenons become so consequentially evident, particularly in the US. I know many people who simply consume the stream of mainstream media and swallow everything, hook line and sinker (a fishing expression where the fish swallows everything). 

The problem, the so called truth seems to change to the point where one could easily, with the intent to do so, question everything they read or hear. 

I suppose I’ve been questioning all my life. I began to hear alternative viewpoints to what was in the mainstream news and decided to investigate. I simply felt it was important to consider every possibility. Even a close read of the mainstream news reveals alternative facts. 

Eventually, the information that didn’t conform to the mainstream views became labeled as conspiracy theories. Anyone discussing, or even considering the alternative views, were suddenly called conspiracy theorists. Anyone espousing alternative views on social media were locked out and their material removed. 

Recently, the US election has caused unprecedented reactions as the President claimed that the election was a stolen. America, one of the worst hit with the COVID-19 disease, is also being torn apart by masses of people who are questioning the truth that they are being told to believe.

Where is the truth? I don’t think there can be any argument that information has been mismanaged. Even a slight read off the track of mainstream views, provides enough points to ask a multitude of questions. The truth is somewhere outside your bubble and it is up to you to research. Look, See, and Ask. It’s what these books are about. You have the tools. A free autonomous human must always question and interrogate the established the truth. You have the right in a democratic society. Ask, why are alternative perspectives being muzzled in a free society? What do you believe? Is it right for alternative views to be silenced and labeled as conspiracy theories? What are the outcomes of such actions? Can ordinary people see through the untrue to find the truth?

Another aspect which can affect what information you see is companies who pay providers to have their information moved to the top of the search list. Let’s face it, everyone is out to make money. If getting certain information more exposure is possible, then a company will pay. Service providers and other Technojungle companies are always looking to make a buck too.

Even within ones own polarizing Filter Bubble, the amount of information you are exposed to is enormous. In a closed Technojungle system, how do you know how true or false, real or fake, current or stale, information really is? Does it annoy you when a webpage neglects to put a dateline on their information?

I believe these are extremely serious unexpected Technojungle dilemmas that most people are unaware of. While the Internet Technojungle does provide access to unimaginable amounts of information, potentially allowing people the freedom to find any data and information they want, a number of difficult unexpected obstacles exist. These essentially have the results of doing just the opposite. People become enslaved in their own polarizing Technojungle bubble and this is dehumanizing. The tendency is for people to cleave to that which they understand and know—the familiar—rather than experiencing a more realistic view of the world. With such a narrow information diet and perspective, can people become manipulated and even controlled?

Have you heard the expression, “…can’t see the forest for the trees?” What does it mean to you? With our Technojungle metaphor, can you imagine being deep in the jungle and not being able to see much beyond your immediate view? Just as in a real jungle, it seems extremely difficult to truly see what is going on in our world. 

One of the goals of this book is to draw your attention to a few Technojungle issues and to help broaden your view of the Technojungle, how you are living, where you are going, and how the Technojungle influences and impacts your humanity and humanness. I mention you here, but we also need to think of all our fellow human beings and our future as the human race—a race against the Technojungle.

Is it possible to step back and get more of a ‘birds eye’ view of our human condition in the Technojungle? How about during a pandemic where there is a smorgasbord of varying information with questionable veracity? I have found that, by writing this book, my awareness has increased. This is probably going to begin to happen to you as you read this book and continue your safari of Looking, Seeing and Asking questions.

Before you throw out that analog container of information, such as a book, magazine or newspaper, shouldn’t you stop to consider the implications? Can you think of some? We have covered enough points in these books that you can probably come up with a good list.

The other day we received a small printed telephone book in our mailbox. It’s standard size and about three quarters of an inch thick. Telephone books disappeared years ago, so I was notably surprised. In our townhouse complex we have a recycling bin next to the mailboxes. It was full of these telephone books. Nobody seems to want a printed paper book of useful information. The yellow section lists businesses by topic. The white section lists businesses alphabetically. It is fast, user friendly, and cost nothing to access. People seem to have been brainwashed into only using online systems. The downside, of course, is that you don’t have it with you all the time.

It does definitely amaze me how many books and magazines are still available. This may have changed by the time you read this.

What has all this got to do with the notion of a Filter Bubble problem? Can you think of some points? Let me consider the phone book mentioned above. As I thumb through it I see many other businesses that catch my eye. The book gives me a good overview of businesses in my city. There is a section at the beginning with Smart Tips for eating, shopping, playing, health and home topics. If I search in the online Technojungle, I have to sift through a vast number of options. This book is fast and simple. Because the production process is more involved than online, I can assume that care was taken to ensure the information is correct. Also, because it’s paper, I can easily make notes right on the pages. What else can you think of that might make a phone book product worth keeping?

I looked up car washes for my city in the above mentioned phone book and online. The phone book provided me with five listings in a few seconds. The first thing I saw from an online search was an ad listing for washing machines (for clothes) and then a number of individual businesses that obviously paid to show up at the top, and others, such as 10 best…. I would have to explore to find a place that would give me a good short list. The phone book would seem to be the winner.

If you feel you are in some sort of serious Filter Bubble, shouldn’t you attempt to step out of it somehow, that is pop the bubble? How might you do this? The Technojungle world outside of the online Technojungle world presents a more general view of the world, but why? For example, printed products can’t be instantly and endlessly customized on the fly. Nor can the average person easily contribute. Offline information must be prepared ahead and for a more general audience. Take a moment and consider, what are some ways you might begin to pop your Filter Bubble by consuming offline information and altering your online practices? If you use a common popular search engine, try one that does not track you. Do some searches on both and compare. Try branching out from your usual social media.

You might be asking, what could my Filter Bubble look like and how did I get into it? To find answers, you have to look carefully at everywhere you get information, both online and even offline. 

I have learned that the Filter Bubble effect began long ago. Think of newspapers which favoured conservative or liberal news. People knew which papers were conservative and which were liberal and could choose accordingly. Consider TV news that is presented with various biases, particularly 24 hour a day, seven day a week news channels. Some news is presented as news, but is actually opinions in disguise. Online social media may present gathering places for only like minded opinions. Have you ever been in a group conversation, either online or offline, where everyone is complaining about something and just pitching-in their own gripe that agrees with everyone else? Where were the differing opinions? Isn’t this an example of an Echo Chamber?

Consider this group conversation example. Can you imagine one or more persons entering the conversation to provide extra affirmations of the dominating opinion, or to sway and influence the opinions in one or another direction? What might result? What else could an influencer do? Suppose the influencer online was not human, but a bot, perhaps even hundreds of bots each making hundreds of posts. Suddenly influencers can be very substantial in swaying opinions. Can you see how similar influences occur through search engines and recommenders on other services?

The political arenas of society might well be the most crucial place for polarization to cause disruption. In professional news outlets, care is taken to attempt to be unbiased and present both sides of a viewpoint, although, as I have mentioned elsewhere in these books, there is always some bias. Turning to social media, one finds that information often favours only one point of view and may at times be an extreme point of view. Do you think automation through the use of bots can skew the actual balance of opinion?

The Internet might have seemed like the great playing field leveller by providing access to all information and opinions. However, the vastness of information available requires some form of sorting and filtering, and somebody, or something, such as algorithms, has to do it. Sorting and filtering requires parameters, so understanding who the information consumer is ultimately governs what is presented. 

The political arenas of society might well be the most crucial place for polarization to cause disruption.

I like to listen to radio talkshows. They present a professional, hopefully unbiased, view of a topic and then open the phone lines to take the opinions of the audience. While it is not possible to get a segment on a topic you want to know about at any particular time you want, and the time allotted only allows for a small number of call-ins, it does provide a live arena for viewpoints. Sure an online news story can have comments, but, can you be sure of how ‘live’ it really is? How are the comments moderated, or even how are they generated?

For centuries, transmitting and receiving news, or getting opinions was a matter of standing in the town square or knocking on doors. If I were a politician running for office, I might consider these to be the most reliable options. In this case, less Technojungle might be better.

Popping the Filter Bubble seems to require a great deal of time. Do you have time to look for a variety of perspectives from many sources? This takes time, time that most of us simply don’t have in this overly busy Technojungle world. Do you simply turn to your usual resources and outlets to get your information? Do you have to be satisfied with your initial search results, or do you dig deeper?

The more we are kept busy with disposable superfluous information, the less time we have to dig up the truth and reality of our life and world and the more likely we may be stuck in a Filter Bubble. This is dehumanizing. Thus popping our Filter Bubble must be a way of being a human being living in this world of Technology we call the Technojungle.

Let’s continue learning to redeem and reclaim that which we may have lost, retain and maintain what we have today, and to protect our humanness and humanity for our future as we learn about being better human beings and living in a world of technology—the Technojungle.

You may actually have a healthy balanced diet of information that governs your worldview, ideas, opinions, perspectives, beliefs and values; however, you might want to step back to Look, See, and Ask yourself if you might be caught in a bubble anyway. Being in a Filter Bubble can be a way of simplifying a very complex system of information. Popping the bubble might seem like stepping into chaos. So what do you know about chaos?

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