Is choosing our news such a good thing?

 

The Internet is all-knowing. Or so it thinks. At least that’s my conclusion after my unscientific one-man study. The Internet is an amazing tool and we can learn a lot by doing searches that take mere seconds. Of course, while doing this, everything is tracked and targeted by search engines, news providers and advertisers. When we subscribe to a Twitter feed or other service, we further refine the information that is fed to us. It’s seems perfect, because we only get information that we have expressed an interest in. All other news and noise is filtered out.Even when we don’t actively decide what news and information we want to receive, the sites we visit gradually learn and decide what to show us. I noticed this recently when I visited a particular search engine that features news items on it’s homepage. When I first started going to that site, it was because my browser had it set as the default home page, and since I didn’t usually use that browser, I never bothered to change it.

The news stories were interesting…..at first. It was diverse, and I clicked on things that I hadn’t really been interested in or in some cases even aware of. As I returned to the site in the following days and weeks, I noticed that the subjects of the articles were becoming less and less diverse. After a couple of months, the entire home page featured multiple articles on a few subjects I had previously read about. It had, in all its’ wisdom, decided it knew exactly what I am interested in. And that is a problem.

Just because I expressed interest in a subject doesn’t mean that is all I ever want to read about. But the problem is much deeper than a site limiting what it shows to me.

How often have you accidentally become interested in a subject that you knew nothing about? And how much will we miss out on when we only read about things we already know about. If you are a tech person and only subscribe to other tech peoples’ Twitter feeds and only read tech blogs, and the news sites only show you tech articles that are narrowly focused on your previous interests, what will you miss out on?

A lot.

You might miss out on discovering a great new passion, a fulfilling hobby, or a new way of looking at a problem. And regardless of what an individual misses out on, we all become dumber as a society. Our collective intelligence will decline, as people learn a lot about single subjects, but less and less about the world around them.

You might say that this has always been the case, that an economist will be surrounded by other economists and financial news stories, that doctors will be surrounded by other medical professionals and medical literature, and so forth. And that’s true. But those same people would often watch the evening news, or read a newspaper or magazine that was not created just for them. The people around them would do the same and expose their colleagues and friends to things that might be unknown to the group.

I’ve decided that I don’t want them to decide for me, so I now choose absolutely random things to search about, and it’s having an effect on news articles on that homepage. I think the algorithm has thrown in the towel, and it has given up on figuring me out.

I’m not suggesting the Internet is bad. What I am suggesting is that we need to be more proactive in reducing how we limit ourselves with technology. The first step is to recognize that the limiting of our scope of knowledge is happening.

I hope it happens before we all lose out on broadening our horizons!

What we lose with texting

 

I watched a girl at my gym as she texted recently. I noticed that she was quite expressive, which started me thinking. No matter how expressive she was, the person on the other side would have no idea. All the person on the other side would see is the message, and regardless of how many emoticons she used, the other person wouldn’t really know what this girl looked like as she texted.

I realized as I watched this that humans are rapidly losing a hugely important part of conversation. That part is the inflection and expression we experience during a face-to-face conversation. My analogy is music. Live and uncompressed music is full of dynamics and range. As music is compressed to fit into a small digital file like and mp3, millions upon millions of bits of data are discarded. You can hear this when a music file is compressed. I’m sure at some point you’ve heard a song and thought it just sounded bad. It was probably over-compressed, which causes voices to sound tinny, cymbals to sound like an air compressor, and dynamics to vanish.

That is, to me, similar to what’s happening as we rely more and more on texting and impersonal, non-verbal communication. We are in effect compressing human interaction, and losing much of what makes an interaction meaningful. And we become less and less understood. There’s no one who uses email who hasn’t been misinterpreted when someone reads their email or text. One might type with a particular inflection in mind, but when the recipient reads the message there is no inflection or expression to allow for the proper interpretation of the message.

Why does this matter? Because inflection and expression are what give words their full meaning. Without them we will begin to lose our ability to fully communicate, and with that, we’ll also lose a part of our culture. So the next time you think about texting, stop and think about calling instead. At least that way, you can connect beyond the words. And if you really want to be daring, try to set up a time to meet. I guarantee you’ll be more fulfilled than sitting home or at the gym and just hitting “send”.