Last week’s magic phrase – and a new piece of jargon to amaze and mystify your friends with – is ‘Filter Bubble‘. It emerged into the public consciousness (well, at least a slightly larger proportion of it) on Monday after Newsnight featured an item on Eli Parser, author of the book entitled ‘The Filter Bubble: what is the internet hiding from you?”
In essence, Parser’s argument is that when you search for something, Google, for example, ‘personalises’ your search, and only shows you links that it (or rather its computer algorithms) thinks you are likely to be most interested in. At a simple level, it knows where you live and provides localised information. At another level, and one that I think has yet to become a reality, it also reflects and reinforces your interests and beliefs, isolating you from the rest of the world. In other words we are starting to create electronic ‘bubbles’ around ourselves that filter out the rest of the world.
By coincidence, this echoed something that had recently occurred to me while working down the messages left by the very select list of Twitterers that I follow. While they provide me with lots of interesting and relevant links that I enjoy reading, it is nonetheless a very closed experience, and one that increasingly cuts me off from the rest of life rather than exposing me to it.
And then there is the current growth of the ‘App’, which ‘app’arently is already the way in which most people now access online content.
As a result, the notion of ‘surfing’, or almost randomly browsing the web and chancing on unexpected links, sites and new ideas, is perhaps likely to diminish, as we simply click on our personalised favourite, and much more focused, App for information and answers.
All this rather contradicts the idea of the web as a wide-open global communication system that connects us with everybody and everything. Indeed some sort of personal filtration system surely is essential, otherwise we will be quickly overwhelmed by exactly how mind-bogglingly big the electronic universe really is. But, with this in mind, the questions we’re not asking at present is how will our personalised bubbles be formed? Will they be strictly of our own making and in our own control, or influenced by and pushed at us by ad agencies, giant corporations and desperate governments? And what needs to be done to ensure our view of the world does not become even narrower and more self-opinionated?
And of course, as this is a post about change in education, there is a further question. What sort of electronic bubbles will students come to blow? Will they become restricted to a small number of preferred educational apps, limited either by their learning institution or by themselves? So far we’ve failed to teach them how to find, evaluate and present what they discover by searching freely. Are we also about to fail to teach them how to burst the filter bubble that is soon going to be surrounding them?