Getting Outside Your Bubble

Popping the bubble

Author unknown, image found here.

Recently I became very aware of living in my own bubble of self interests. Unknowingly I had created a personal echo-chamber where the people I spent time with, read on line and in books, or watched on TV all bounced around ideas and opinions that I mostly agreed with. It makes for a wonderful self full filling environment that depending on your world views can leave you very positive that things are happening the way you want them to happen. Reading nothing but your favourite sport and gadgets makes you think that the latest whizz bangery and winning the game at all costs may be the purpose of the world. Or if your a fan of doom and gloom and you only follow those that let your world view is proven that we are all in serious trouble.

But I realized, especially when I read this paper (one of the co-authors, Jutta Trevianus is now at OCAD University), that I was missing the bigger picture. It might also mean I was  weakening my potential for creative problem solving that would require looking at a subject from many different frames of mind. Framed this way in the conclusion of the paper:

“Diversity [of media] promotes innovation and creativity and results in better problem solving. Mathematical modeling shows that this phenomenon is partly due to the increased coverage of possible options that a diversity of perspectives and therefore diversity of paths enables…”

So, only reading the basketball news of your favourite team, the fashion magazine that reflects the beauty of your culture, the newspaper that supports your political and ideological beliefs, and blogs that feed your personal interests, may actually make you a worse person?

Siva Vaidhyanathan is a Professor of Media Studies in the University of Virgina, in the Law Department. He has written a book, called the The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry). I happened to hear him talking on CBC radio yesterday (yes, an echo chamber of my own world belief) and he discusses “that we’re getting a little too comfortable with the world as Google presents it”.

Not everyone realizes that Google, quite deliberately customizes it’s results according to data they collect on you. Obvious things are your geographical location, but areas we know less about is the data the collect on how you use the internet. But don’t vilify Google, everyone’s doing it, from Facebook to Microsoft, and for the most part they are doing it to make us very, very happy. Is this the technological Genius of Place?

If you’re shopping for a digital camera, sitting on your couch in Toronto, you don’t want to see the search results from Japan. You can’t buy those cameras, you can’t read the language and the power plug won’t work in your socket. Having Google pre-screen these for you is superb. Your search results deliver content applicable to you and streamline the process.

But if your searching about the awful tsunami/earthquake/nuclear disaster, how do you get local content? The same barriers occur, and you end up reading about a foreign crisis through the lens of your local culture. Does the Huffington Post, New York Times, and Toronto Star have the same coverage, biases, insights and “flavour” as Japanese media? Or is your own personal opinion limited due to the channels of information that flow to you?

Siva Vaidhyanathan says we need to eat some broccoli every now and again. As he puts it, we spend our childhood learning that eating candy all the time will make you sick. As grown adults we realize that vegetables are pretty good for you, and we become responsible (maybe) in how we consume those foods we know are low in nutrition. Perhaps the same should be done with the internet, Siva recommends. Stop only reviewing content that you love and agree with, and challenge yourself to a complete nutritional diet that includes all the food groups from the food pyramid (which is currently being redesigned anyway).

I have taken on that challenge over the last year, when I signed on for a subscription to the National Post, a conservative newspaper in a country (Canada) awash in excellent liberal news sources. It was a great experience, I learnt a lot of new perspectives, I read articles that I disagreed with (and my poor girlfriend heard many rants as a consequence). What surprised me the most was what content was not covered in the paper, even though it might have been on the front page of it’s liberal competitors. It was an eye opener into the information I must have been missing previously.

The subscription ended, and after fighting off the almost-impossible to refuse deals offered by their sales team, I signed up for a subscription to Bloomberg Businessweek. An excellent news source, I am now getting a window into a world that has an extremely specific lens. There is a lot of language and bias that I completely disagree with (and making me write rants like this), but it is helping me understand the actions of others.

What this experiment is showing me, is that I am really enjoying eating my broccoli after all.

One Comment on “Getting Outside Your Bubble”

  1. […] (twittering?), I like to try and gain as broad a perspective of context as possible. I like to pop my bubble, so to speak. Floating like a butterfly from signal to signal, I use twitter to keep me appraised […]

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