Ever since I heard Eli Pariser talking about his new book, The Filter Bubble (Penguin, May), I have been spooked about the implications of the way we consume information through the Internet.
In his book, Pariser discusses the rise of “personalized” search results on the web – when two people conduct the exact same Google search but find radically different results. Pariser, founder of MoveOn.org, and a conservative friend were both interested in the unrest in Egypt earlier this year. They both search Google for “Egypt”, yet his friend sees nothing about riots or an uprising on the first page of search results. The algorithms used by Google and other search engines intuit your interests and provide results consistent with data gathered from your past searches.
The implication? In a world where people are already polarized by wealth and beliefs, the Internet actually furthers the divide. Some would say that this algorithm-driven process is essential, since it narrows an overwhelming amount of information into more manageable chunks. What if the most important information is not what we already know, but what we need to discover and learn?
This is why we remain so committed to a world with independent bookstores and public libraries. By simply going in and wandering around, you expand your world of ideas. Not every book is on the shelves, but the selections are shaped by current events, the time-tested works of history, and new books by promising writers.
Book industry research has indicated that over 40% of people who shop in bookstores discover something they did not specifically come in to buy. Little have we realized how utterly important these venues have been to broadening our horizons instead of narrowing our views.