Should Newspapers Give Readers the Power to Hide News They Don’t Want to See? – Rebecca J. Rosen – The Atlantic

The writer of this brief article seems broadly in favour of giving readers the power to self-curate.

The systemic effects of doing so are, however, a little risky. Confirmation bias is a powerful force on the Internet and filter bubbles are widespread enough as it is. We need to encounter other beliefs, other interests and other ideas apart from ones we have already settled on, if we are to grow and learn. The rise of social networking and the stigmergic effects of ubiquitous algorithms like PageRank and Edgerank are already causing enough trouble without site owners contributing to the phenomenon.

On the other hand, there is little value in insisting that, for a single site, people should read things they do not want to read. Apart from anything else, if their choices are unconstrained, they will visit other sites instead if they don’t like what they find. If you are in control of a site then it is better, perhaps, to let people select what they want from your site than to select nothing at all and go somewhere else. 

In design terms, the Web is part of and a major contributor to a self-organising system, a massive range of overlapping, intersecting and connecting ecosystems. If it were one flat savanna, whether as a result of confirmation bias or a lack of differentiation, evolution would slow down or stop. Luckily, neither extreme is possible – we simply cannot pay attention to it all things, nor can we completely divorce ourselves from the things we do not want to see. It is neither an unstructured featureless space nor a set of isolated islands that never connect.

We need parcellated spaces for evolution to happen, but we need isthmuses, bridges, and breaks in barriers for good things to seep through. Self-curation is fine and, to a large extent, unstoppable: even in the days when I used dead trees for my news, I would skip not just articles but whole sections that did not interest me. Attention is a valuable and scarce commodity and, no matter how curious we may be, we don’t have time or capacity to give it all to all things. However, we need to make room for serendipitous channels, seepages and signposts to remind us that there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophies. Yes, of course we should give people control over what they see and make it easy for them to filter things how they like. But we should also make deliberate holes in those filters, to remind people that their filters can and probably should change from time to time, to provide signposts to what they are missing and to encourage them to explore new islands and territories. We should design for serendipity.

Address of the bookmark:

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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