The Voice

The Voice

The Voice

Blinded by the blue light

When I was 4 years old, my mother asked, “Do you want sausage or cheese pizza?” The complexity of this question meant some serious contemplation. After weighing the benefits of each option, recalling past experiences, and observing what my wiser 9-year-old sister had chosen, only then could I without a doubt proclaim, “I wan’ da cheese.”


From that point on, I was under the impression the ability to choose was a God-given right. I am sure most Americans would agree, and even feel that, in everything they do, they always have a choice.


Well, not exactly.


Apparently, certain websites we all know and love – or loved – feel the need to display their superiority against the Consumer Bill of Rights. We’re talking Facebook, Google, Bing, Netflix, Amazon, numerous online newspapers, and more.


For example, I recently had to write a movie review for a class assignment. To gather background knowledge, I avidly sought past productions of the cast members, and I must admit the search became increasingly simpler as I went along.


Problem is, I’m done with the assignment, but my three best matches for practically everything I look up are now movie-related. Google thinks I’ve gone movie-crazy in the past month.


This type of modified browsing was first coined as “The Filter Bubble” by Eli Pariser in his book by the same title. As an internet activist, he explained the user’s isolation in his “personal ecosystem of information” based on idealized browsers catering to his interests.


The concept doesn’t seem too bad at first glance; why spend hours sifting through pages and pages of links when it can all be sorted and organized based on a statistical equation of sorts? Yet, I’m doubtful that an algorithm employed by an unthinking machine can really deduce who I am and what I want to know.


This algorithm looks at everything: from favorite links, common searches, “liked” posts, even political viewpoint; to technicalities such as location on earth and type of computer or browser being used.


However, there is a big difference between the days when my deepest desire was to watch “Full House reruns for eight hours straight, and the days when I want honest, unbiased information.


The filter bubble cannot seem to grasp the three-dimensional individual. It thinks humans are all unsophisticated robots with a single setting. Some, yes; others, definitely not.


I do not appreciate being shielded from controversial facts, opposing viewpoints and challenging ideas, nor am I grateful that after an extensive research essay, I’m apparently a reform-movement fanatic.


The filter bubble is an assault on democracy, an infiltration on privacy, an unwarranted display of power. Does it end here, or will we see the day when looking up recent terrorist attacks will result in a court-ordered house search?


Okay, perhaps that’s a bit far-fetched.


Nevertheless, Dave Tambellini, media center specialist of the LRC, agrees that the filter bubble is a “major issue.” By presenting in classrooms and administrative meetings, he has been making students and teachers aware of the problem.


“The way that schools need to combat the filter bubble is to teach information literacy skills and do a better job of promoting our resource databases,” said Tambellini.


The library purchases digital versions of reference books already in their stacks, as well as prescribes to other reliable sources like the Gale databases.


Particularly, the Gale Virtual Reference Library contains print resources online to ensure that students have easy access to valid, up-to-date material. Tambellini is in charge of adding in and weeding out books from the collection based on the year’s course catalog and further teacher input.


“The problem arises when we train people that Google is, in terms of search, the end-all, be-all of finding everything out,” said Tambellini, “and it’s not.”


Although great for looking up restaurant reviews and Christmas presents, Google is one of the many search engines that essentially kisses up to its customers by tailoring results. For hardcore research, students should take advantage of the databases and heed Tambellini’s warning of becoming “information illiterate.”


For more protection, wipe the history clean, and then go incognito with the internet’s anonymous option. Otherwise, if you’d rather stay ignorant to the starving children in Africa, be my guest. Enjoy the fun facts on population size and vacation discounts.


I wonder sometimes where I’d be if mom, remembering my enjoyment of mini hotdogs, had simply plopped that sausage pizza on my plate without asking. The coveted cheese would never have been discovered, forever tainting my pizza endeavors and making all junk food an utter disappointment.


Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Jessica Chalas, Author

Comments (0)

All The Voice Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *