Surfing to Stupidity

Many people are proud to proclaim that they don’t read anything in hard copy.

“I read everything online, I have a short attention span; besides, everything online is as it happens, newspapers and magazines are way too slow and all their contents are outdated by the time they reach you,” they say.

In the US, the Internet is now the second source of news for most people, after TV. The Net is already the main source of news for Americans under 30.

I don’t have statistics for Singapore, but I see an increasing number of people who only rely on what they read online for news and information.

Well, these people don’t realize that when they read everything online they actually become more stupid and misinformed.

Some even become totally uninformed.

Internet activist Eli Pariser argues in his book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You that the internet forms a bubble around you, filtering out vital information from you.

If you do a search on a subject here in Singapore, and have a friend in say, Sydney, do a search for the same subject, both of you will get different results because search engines throw up “results” according to your preferences, your search habits and other algorithms they’ve collected from your surfing habits.

After all, didn’t Larry Page of Google once say that “the ultimate search engine would understand exactly what you mean, and give back exactly what you want”?

You’ve already seen how can “predict” with uncanny ability the types of books or DVDs you like, based on your past purchasing behavior and make recommendations to you based on that as well as how you browse its site.

Facebook shows you updates from the friends you interact with the most, filtering out people with whom you have less in common.

In the end, you are less likely to encounter information online that challenges your existing views or sparks serendipitous connections.

Pariser says “A world constructed from the familiar is a world in which there’s nothing to learn.” He calls this phenomenon “invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas.”

The amount of time people spent on Facebook, Twitter, etc certainly doesn’t help as well. “We are getting a lot of bonding, but very little bridging,” declares Pariser.

Food for thought, indeed.

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