An Internet mission for libraries

In Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You, there is a prescription for how individuals, and institutions like libraries, can respond to some of concerns arising from the twin forces of increased personalization and increased commercialization of the Internet.

Pariser argues that many Internet companies are using the personalization features not just to benefit endusers but to prime consumer demand and use data collected directly or indirectly to target consumers ever more precisely. Pariser paints a possible picture of the future that is quite disconcerting—a world depicted in the film Minority Report, where privacy is reduced and people live in effective bubbles where the world around them is driven by advertising targeting to the presence of identified individuals.

We already live in a world where it’s increasingly less transparent as to how our interactions on the Internet are being utilized by third parties, whether they be advertisers or governments. Pariser describes how newspapers went through a similar arch, where sensationalism drove sales in the 19th century, and then ethical debates in the 20th century resulted in policies and principles that guided editorial decisions.

The “filter bubble” of the Internet runs the risk of reducing serendipity, of reducing the sense of the common good, or the common public space, and replacing those things with distractions and distortions in the development of civic priorities. This is an area of the future information world where libraries should make a stand, and play a role.

Pariser prescribes an Internet tool that can hold readers’ attention and introduce us to new topics and ideas via serendipity. That’s not a bad description of what an ideal library is.

This quote (pg. 236-7) captures the essence of what Pariser is arguing for:

The torch is now being passed to a new generation of curators, and we need them to pick it up and carry it with pride. We need programmers who will build public life and citizenship into the worlds they create. And we need users who will hold them to it when the pressure of monetization pulls them in a different direction.

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is… The Filter Bubble, by Eli Pariser

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