The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You

  • Eli Pariser
  • Penguin Press HC
  • 304 pp.

The online world is creating an ever more personalized version of each of us ― and we should be worried, this book argues.

Reviewed by Joanie Gillispie

The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser bubbles with interesting bits. It will get you wondering about the Internet. It’s everywhere. It’s so easy to connect. It’s (mostly) free. Don’t have time to actually read about the Internet? OK, then, just power on. Let the hidden, the phony and the profit-driven capture your every keystroke and click, all the better to tighten the ever-narrowing You Loop, your online profile, the one you don’t know about.

You don’t get something for nothing. Pariser wants us to realize that search engines, Web sites, trolls and tricksters keep a log of our online lives, orchestrating what we see, read and do online. Why? To monetize the content ― and the content is us. Internet filters and ranking systems turn your data into formulas that render an ever more personalized version of you online. This overfitting of your personality not only shaves off the growing edges of chance, creativity and serendipity but also leads to what Pariser calls a “global lobotomy.” Whatever you search, see and do online creates your preferences, and your preferences are whatever you search, see and do online. Get it? Our future networked lives are a closed and largely hidden feedback system reinforcing a reductionist, automated version of you ― a marketable you.

You may be dumbed-down, but code sure is SMART! Programmers can account for day parting, your online activities at different times of day. Code writers have also upgraded from mere behavioral profiling to sentiment profiling. Online data and products are now fed to you according to your cyber emotions, deduced from everything you do online. Profiling in this way results in a vulnerable, nuanced, persuadable profile. For example, new improved code includes just the right amount of intentional error. Otherwise, as aeronautical programmers for landing software can attest, code without a little randomness would land in the same place every time and we might notice. The power of profiling lies in what we don’t know. What we don’t know, we can’t change.

Should we worry? Yes. Pariser wants Digital Culture to be transparent and user-friendly. But cyberspace requires a mash-up of critical thinking embedded within media literacy. Every technology we use and every site we visit has different Terms of Use. Multimedia has many ways to influence us: Our moods are influenced by sound, our memory by color, our attention by movement. There is no clear-cut solution to the filtering dilemma. No one level of security, privacy or sharing works for everything we do online. Making sense of multimedia and the invisible software that supports it requires deconstructing power, drilling down and reading the fine print as well as understanding media influence from a global 360-degree perspective.

However, we are not completely at the digital mercy of greed. The decentralized, shareware ethos of DIY (Do It Yourself) and Remix still defines Digital Culture and allows it to flourish. Digital Culture flourishes because it is an interactive, open and creative experience. People thrive in cultures where they have a voice and have opportunities. You can flourish online, too, but read this book first. Pariser makes good at unraveling our You Loops and helps us debundle a particularly pernicious mix of persuasion and code. The Filter Bubble does for our online lives what Pariser did for our politics when he was at the helm of When we grow weary of our ignorance and the abuses of the rich and famous, the power of good and fair go viral, inspire and change regimes. It happens all the time.

Power on!

Dr. Joanie Gillispie, a psychologist and the author of Cyber.rules, What You Really Need To Know About The Internet: A Guide for Clinicians, Educators, and Parents (W.W. Norton, 2007), teaches at Berkeley City College in the Multimedia, Psychology, and Education Departments and post-graduate courses in pychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

comments powered by Disqus