After finding out about "personalized internet" and what it is all about, thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio 90.7, I was thinking about how cool this blog is, and how nice it is to have as a place on the web that is guaranteed to provide me and others with different news stories, opinions, conflicts, etc. that can come from lefties & righties, atheists & non-atheists, students and professors, and so on and so forth.
Personalized internet on the surface seems cool - more relevant answers come from Google searches, Amazon tells you what books you might like, Facebook gives you links to ads, pages, etc. that it thinks you will like, etc. All this and more, according to actions you have previously performed on the internet (meaning actions that are linked to you as an internet user). I don't know exactly how it works, but apparently websites are coded with these complex algorithms that determine what information gets presented to you (after a search, on your Facebook feed, on the front page of Yahoo! News, etc.) , according to different variables such as what computer you are on, the user you are logged in as, your location, your age, your internet options/preferences, the links/ads you've clicked on in the past, the searches you've performed in the past and what results you clicked on first, etc. In a lot of cases, personalization can really help people – it saves search time, gets you what you want, and shows you things you didn't even know you wanted to see.
But there is a problem with internet personalization, particularly when it comes to important things like political issues. For instance, one person who the internet has identified as a conservative will get different search results than someone who the internet has identified as a liberal. So conservatives will not be as exposed to the same articles, blogs, advertisements, etc. that liberals may be exposed to, and vice-versa, simply so more money can be made by Google or whatever company. Is there something wrong with this?
It seems that the internet may be keeping people in their bubbles by filtering information. You know, personalization might just enable people to stay in their corner of the world, and rarely let them be exposed to content that some coded algorithm has decided will not be of interest to them. This in itself might not be wrong, because the internet is business, and the users are consumers, so they get what they get. However, some people don't realize to what extent the internet is tracking them and their movements, and how well the internet hides things from people who believe they are seeing the full picture when they search Google or even scroll their Facebook feed. In other words, people miss out and don't get as much exposure to differing perspectives as they may think without even realizing it, so it is easier for differing viewpoints to be ignored and overlooked, even when a person might actually take interest in opposing viewpoints in certain situations. Thus, people unwittingly are being closed off to alternative standpoints.
So, now that I myself have a better idea of what is going on behind the web pages that seem to innocently provide me with news and search results, I am very appreciative of this blog, because every post is random and not custom fitted for me! I do enjoy seeing posts from people who don't have the same viewpoint that I do (agreeing with every post would get entirely too boring), and I think it is fun and beneficial, because it helps me consider my own ideas/perspective on all kinds of different topics, in extraordinary ways.
What I want to do now, is think about ways that this kind of internet can be expanded - meaning, the kind that is NOT personalized. Obviously there may be ways to avoid the consequences of personalization, but I am afraid it is not as easy as one may think. Luckily I am a college student who has access to school libraries and legitimate sources of information that I can access easily without having to get around the search engines’ algorithms (I think). Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone, and when personalization goes unnoticed, no one thinks to make special efforts to avoid it.
As a final note, I can't help but think about Jean Paul Sartre, and his idea of "The Look", because it is almost as though the internet is giving us all "The Look"! Seeing what we do - then labeling us, and generalizing us, making us objects to fit into whatever "type" the internet thinks we are! Conservatives, liberals, soccer moms, college kids, smokers, sports enthusiasts, artists, etc... we're being objectified, and we're falling into the marketing scheme of the internet - when at first we created the internet, the internet now seems to create us, and it locks us into habits of clicking on certain kinds of links and viewing certain kinds of things, gradually securing us into whatever category the internet places us into... mindlessly pushing for the continuance of and feeding the simple objectified versions of ourselves.