Filter Bubbles Versus Viral Memes: Why We Have More Common Ground than Ever Before

Adam Gurri writing for The Ümlaut :  Adam argues that the meme of The Filter Bubble doesn’t square with his experience (i.e., theories of Internet echo chambers). We don’t square with the “filter bubble” either. Adam closes with this:

(…) I don’t care about most of the stories that go viral, and I would prefer to ignore them entirely. It used to be that random extreme events—unrepresentative of the larger reality—would dominate the news cycle. Now, they also dominate online conversations.

Although I take great pains to avoid the story of the moment, in the end there’s only so much I can do while choosing to remain online. And the benefits of using the Internet are worth the costs, even if I do have to tolerate a lot of pointless common ground.

I have no interest in the daily news cycle, unless it involves alien invasion, or an impending asteroid strike on our part of the ocean. But our selection of Twitter and RSS feeds doesn’t follow the pattern Adam experiences – being mostly academics and scientists, they are too diverse to “harmonize” or jabber on some topical TV news theme. OTOH, the diversity means that we are likely to see signals if there is something developing that we would want to know about – e.g., a repricing of Spanish debt.

4 thoughts on “Filter Bubbles Versus Viral Memes: Why We Have More Common Ground than Ever Before

  1. Thank you for the link and the commentary. I am not so dogmatic in my thesis that I do not wonder whether it is possible to escape the head of the tail to a greater extent, and live cozily in some niche in the long tail. But I have trouble believing it.

    Like you, my Twitter stream is filled with people with largely geeky niche interests. And yet somehow the viral stories of the moment still come bursting through.

    Let me put three national news items to you, and ask if you can tell me honestly that you had not heard about them at all before I mentioned them:

    1. The shooting at Newtown
    2. The death of Trayvon Martin
    3. The death of Michael Jackson

    Did none of those work their way into the discussions of economic arcana in your feeds?

  2. Thanks heaps for your comments. First, your test cases:

    1. Yes – we heard about this one from a Norwegian cruiser that we happended to be entertaining aboard after the shooting. He introduced the topic in the context of the shooting tragedy in Norway. Newtown was also an overheard topic for some time – including friends who wanted to talk about it. I confess I never read any reportage (I think “what’s the point?”)

    2. No.

    3. Yes – that one was everywhere one looked. E.g., you couldn’t check out at the supermarket without being confronted with tabloid covers.

    Second, my writing was sloppy – it reads like we never see viral or “hot” news items. E.g., the Siberian meteorite fragments, or the new Pope (that one seems to surface mostly in jokes). Possibly a better way to express the thought is that the news feed doesn’t buy any of our attention – unless it intersects an area of interest. E.g., the Fukushima Daiichi accidents – I keep an eye on that to measure both actual developments as well as distortions by media and politicians.

    You might find some fruit in Rolf Dobelli’s essay “Avoid News”. 

    Because RSS & Twitter are lightweight both in traffic and weeding time, I’m happy to add a source that looks potentially valuable. But I also quickly prune them off if they are generating “chatter”. So a source needs to be “well behaved” by my definition as well as useful/relevant to stay in the feed input hopper.

    We very rarely have access to a land internet connection, and in the South Pacific the service is typically both tightly capped and expensive. That forces me to pay more attention to RSS in particular – it’s easy to gradually accumulate hundreds of feeds. These can be managed by priority grouping – but still consume some bandwidth. Recently I pruned viciously down to a few dozens.

    • So two out of three–though both cases of the offline world being the vector. If you haven’t read it before, I high recommend Everett Rogers’ book, Diffusion of Innovations. He talks about how media events diffuse ridiculously fast, and total strangers will even go up to people and start talking about it!

      It sounds like you have curated a great set of feeds and Twitter users that are very relevant to your interests, but I guess given your circumstances you really need to!

      What I didn’t say in the Ümlaut piece is that even if the Internet isn’t the vector, it increases the odds that viral stories will reach you through people in real life who are themselves connected to the Internet, and not even trying to hide from this stuff.

      Thanks for the link to that essay; Instapapered it and will give it a read today.

    • The Caplan post and Dobelli essay are great. Thanks so much for the pointer. Have you by any chance read or heard of Clay Johnson’s book, The Information Diet? Makes many of the same or similar points as Dobelli, and made me reconsider the crap I was consuming personally. I already hated the news, but somehow was treating technology news as though it were somehow different. That was obviously wrong—news is news.

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