Monday, September 29, 2014

The Bubbles in My Life

Bubbles are things in life that have brought bliss to many.  Most people associate them with their past and/or childhood.  Some, like me, even enjoy them in their early adult lives, whether trying to entertain kids in the summer or wanting to showcase bubble blowing abilities to a younger, less experienced human; it's a nanny thing!  These mysterious objects appear in many colors, have many different shapes, and can even float way up into the sky, a phenomenon that still bewilders young minds. 

Because these objects are so often associated with memories of youthful days, they can also bring back an essence of safety and comfort.  Nothing makes one wish more for diaper-wearing days and not having a care in the world than memories of home --- a place where your worries were passed on to your parents.  Danger was never an issue because the walls of your home were like a gate, allowing only certain people, objects, values and issues to enter.  Fear was kept at bay because the only arguments that broke out were ones related to selfishness or not doing one's duties.  These are all factors that can define a "home bubble", but they can also be used to describe a media tool called the "filter bubble".
Filter Bubble - the intellectual isolation that can occur when websites make use of algorithms to selectively assume the information a user would want to see, and then give information to the user according to this assumption (

These filter bubbles that have been incorporated into different media sites provide a specialized experience for each viewer.  As mentioned in the Sustein reading, filtering is the right option to select in terms of preventing brain overload, but it is how media uses the filter bubble that makes people have a love/hate relationship with certain media.  With these algorithms automatically implemented into the sites, media presents the information to you in a way that shows you only what they think you want to see.  This is just like a bubble that encloses and keeps whatever is inside safe from the dangers and distractions of the world.  This is all great until you get to the bubble and ...  

Now the world can throw anything and everything at you because there is nothing there to filter out things related to what  you like, believe or want to see.  The concept can be terrifying and cause many to have anxiety or feel overwhelmed with the magnitude of choices.   

However, as we grow up, we are encouraged to do things on our own and to make wise choices. Filter bubbles have a way of stunting our ability to learn and grow as individuals without outside help.
I, for one, have different feelings about filter bubbles.  Coming from a small town that encompasses certain morals and beliefs, I grew up learning only those things that my family, community and school chose for me.  These values were easily embedded into my life because the more people around you that believe something, especially something that you also believe, the easier it is to feel safe holding those values and also expressing them.  Once I came to college, I had a wake-up call!  I have already encountered different situations where my beliefs and morals were challenged.  No longer did I have a whole community to back me up, but only a small group of friends similar to the ones I had back home.
During those trying occurrences, I was able to use dissoi logoi because I had a strong belief on the issues and also had the tools and knowledge I needed for support.  This is one reason I am in favor of filter bubbles.  They allow me to build on certain beliefs or ideas without interferences.  This is also a reason why I don't like filter bubbles.  Because I grew up around people very similar to myself, I have never experienced dissoi logoi to its fullest extent. The closest I have gotten to participating in a real argument about critical issues was in a debate in a government class.  Even then, the students I was debating had similar beliefs and feelings to mine; they were just chosen to defend the other side in this debate.
In terms of media, I do not have a definite position on the use of filter bubbles.  When I am listening to my music on Pandora, I am entertaining myself or wanting to procrastinate . . . usually the latter.  During these times I want to be able to listen to music that I enjoy without having to endure a bad song now and then.  This is where the lovely filter bubble comes in.  If I don't like a song, I can click on the "thumbs down" icon, and Pandora will never play that song again.  If I click on the "thumbs up" icon, Pandora will remember not only that I like that song but also that I might like similar songs.  Then each of my stations will be tailored to my likes and dislikes in each genre.  That is why Pandora is one of my favorite music apps.  (And no, I don't want to try Spotify.)
So far the filter bubble has, for the most part, been a good friend, but there are times when I am convinced that the filter bubble is the devil's creation.  Once upon a time not so long ago, I was in junior high . . . shocking, I know!  During those relentless middle school years, I set up a Facebook account.  I was so excited, but also clueless about it.  After adding a few friends and posting a few pictures, I found my true love --- the "like" button.  I went from a few "likes" a week to an obsession.  I was in over my head.  For anything that sounded cool or I thought was in any way relevant to my life, I clicked the "like" button.  Sadly, I now have over 1500 likes.
Now that I have acknowledged being a pathetic junior high kid, I want to explain how the filter bubble comes into play.  On Facebook, the filter bubble takes all your "likes" (and other posts and pictures) and tries to formulate what people and pages to show you.  Well, now that they have invented this handy filter bubble, my Facebook has turned into a nightmare of ads and terrible posts from the pages I thought were amazing six years ago.  I would like to see the wedding photos that my cousin posted or the family vacation pictures that my friend took, but instead I am stuck with viewing a terrible comic strip from the page "water has a taste you can't explain". . .  Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and educate my twelve-year-old self!  The day I might eventually enjoy Facebook again is the day it goes out of style.
I know that many people have similar mixed emotions about filter bubbles.  Some days I jump on the filter bubble train and ride it into the sunset.  Other days I want to be a bubble poppin' boy. 

(Spongebob is always relevant.)
Whether the media ever figures out that the filter bubble isn't the most ingenious idea . . . and I doubt that they will . . .life will still go on.  I have several different bubbles in my life, and they have shaped and continue to shape who I am, whether through technology or through face-to-face  conversations.  Bubbles are always going to be mysterious things.  They are controlled by the humans blowing them, yet they are uncontrollable in how they form or where they will land.  My overall feeling is that I would like to keep  bubbles in soap form unless I choose to incorporate them into my life in other ways.
Just an after thought - - - If I ever meet a Facebook or Google representative, I might suggest that they could always make the whole filter bubble idea an option instead of a set-in-stone algorithm. 

How to Control the Facebook Algorithm

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