The giant corporations that we interact with on the internet are trying to understand what we like so that they can feed us a processed diet of stuff that is similar.
Amazon, for example, suggests other books we might like. Newsfeeds on the iPhone change based on what we click on. Google creates personalised search results based on our search histories.
Mainstream news channels pick stories with an eye to what other news channels are likely to talk about – creating an increasingly homogeneous mix of information and news.
Many people simply choose to ignore stuff they don’t like or don’t agree with on the internet – creating a system where what they see is more of what they already see.
The main danger with this is that we could get trapped in an echo chamber.
Colin Raney has a nice way to show this in a 2×2 matrix – shown in the picture above.
When we see familiar content from familiar sources – that’s the time to be wary.
If people and sources we know are repeating the same thing it could be true.
Then again, it might simply be an echo, as the same thing bounces off and is repeated and amplified by others in our network.
We may end up with a distorted version of what is happening.
When we see familiar content from new, independent sources that might help confirm a story.
The idea of independence is key. The content needs to have been gathered and checked independently.
If we see new information from familiar sources, especially ones we trust, that might be something to explore further.
We may learn something in these circumstances.
Finally, when we see new content from new sources, we expand our horizons and are exposed to novel concepts, ideas and stories.
The technology and media that surrounds us are trying to understand us better and deliver more tailored content.
Paradoxically, in doing that, they might make it too easy for us to settle into a situation where we believe that what we see is all there is.
Politicians know this.
The strategy all over the world now is to talk only at people that already believe in them or that might be on the fence. The opposition can safely be ignored.
Comfort leads to complacency – instead we might want to be curious, look for facts, be sceptical and look at things from multiple angles.
Do we all need to think like journalists now?