Cloistered Lives in a Technological World

A critically important book was published last week, one that should shake up our mindsets and prompt us to think about how the use of technology by major corporations is shaping how we understand our place in the world.

Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble (Penguin, $25.95) delves into the business of social networks and search engines. He presents a few observations about his own use of technology that reveals how information is manipulated with the goal of “personalizing” what we see on the internet. Most disturbing was Facebook’s mysterious removal of all of the conservative ‘friends’ from Pariser’s Facebook page, but leaving his liberal friends untouched. Why would they be motivated to create an algorithm to do something like this? Was money a factor, and if so, who paid? Why do others have such power to manipulate our ‘personal’ pages and modify the results we see on a Google search?

How can we learn about the world, expand our knowledge, correct our misunderstandings with this intrusion into our efforts? Silicon Valley has some of the best and brightest in America, but this surely can not reflect their highest work. So what turns out to best for society is trumped by the race to be a millionaire and the sprint to maximize shareholder investment. This is not “American exceptionalism.”

So many times I’ve heard people say there’s little need to fund public libraries today because “we have the Internet.” Indie bookstores struggle to remain relevant when online booksellers are fast and cheap (and profit from selling personal information). Committed journalists struggle to keep their jobs when so much “news” is Tweeted every second.

Will we value integrity, truth, privacy, and perspective as more becomes known about how we receive information — and what is done with the information collected about each of us? It will only take nine minutes of your time to view Eli Pariser’s presentation on TED. You’ll be amazed and alarmed by what you learn, and will want to share it with others.