The Filter Bubble

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The other day, I learned about the theory of “the filter bubble”. Maybe you have heard of it. I had not. It is basically a theory that we are living in a bubble that prevents us from correctly perceiving reality. This theory was explained in the book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You by Eli Pariser, which simply says that by forming our opinions on the internet, we run the risk of isolating ourselves from other information that is farther away from our cultural and ideological world (our bubble). This is due to AI’s use of information gathered from our past searches, our contacts, the sites we have most visited, etc. suggesting to us what they have most reason to believe will interest us. Thus, isolating us from any exposure to new ideas or opinions outside of our own.1 Quite a valid (and validated) theory.

This is unsettling to me. I was not ignorant to the manipulation of data collected from my various electronic devices that is then used to either (1) sell me things [one of its biggest priorities], (2) suggest things I may/probably will like and (3) track my consumerist activities to sell me things. That data is used in numerous other disturbing ways as well, but what are you going to do? Going “off the grid” is a rather challenging thing to do. The point I am trying to reach here is that getting yourself out of that “filter bubble” can be challenging not only because it requires us to be uncomfortable, but because we are not really taught or guided toward ways of getting ourselves out of that vacuum.

I for one do not utilize social media platforms on a personal level. I interact with them for my job, but I do not engage with them outside of that. I find them to be counter-productive to real conversation on a larger scale. Not only that, but they have been filtered so much by their companies’ algorithms that isolate individuals from opposing views and curate news media to fit their current agenda (let me reiterate that this my individual opinion and not necessary that of the library and that there is research out there that has proven as such). However, it is not only social media platforms that are filtering your online activities, practically any website you go to is gathering and using your online trail for their own means. It is a consequence of using the internet. But, I digress.

This takes me to a pillar of librarianship which is the upholding of intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. Libraries provide the ideas and information, in a variety of formats, to allow people to inform themselves. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.2 I sometimes worry that within the responsibilities of my job I can act as filter. That I do not provide enough diversity to the promotion of the library or that I am not promoting or reaching to a broad enough audience; that I am not getting our message across successfully and that I am not doing enough to express the importance of what the library is offering. There are moments that I feel at odds with aspects of my job and there are times I am left feeling heavy for the future of intellectual freedom.

I chafe against that feeling of helplessness in the face of huge scale problems, but honestly, there are moments when I just feel like nothing I do is breaking through ‘filter bubbles’ and challenging our patrons’ views or making them question the world around them. Then I realize that is quite a lofty expectation to put on myself, not to mention egotistical, and that all I should be doing is making sure that they know the door is open to them should they chose to enter. Maybe that is an unconscious goal of library architectural trends to be brighter and with more glass – to express that we are social institutions that strive for transparency in ourselves and what we offer our communities. No filter.

-Samantha Hanchett, Marketing Coordinator

1The Nation of Plants, by Stefano Mancuso


*Please note that the opinions of “Thoughts” are just that and do not necessarily represent the views of the Thomas County Public Library.


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