Hear me out on this one.
The other day I was sitting at lunch having a conversation about the mediation of information with a friend of mine and eventually stumbled onto something I hadn’t really considered before: While we all praise the internet as unmediated, we are constantly trying to create filters to help mediate.
Now I don’t think this is a problem, just an interesting fact. Filters are the most important thing going on in the internet world right now. That’s what all this attention stuff, unbundled stuff and all the other things people are talking about eventually lead to. So what’s a filter?
In the science world it’s “A porous material through which a liquid or gas is passed in order to separate the fluid from suspended particulate matter.” In computer terms its a program that sorts data based on some determined criteria. A newspaper or television station is a kind of filter in that it makes a decision about what it shows and what it doesn’t.
One of the arguments against the personalization/filterization of the web is that it will close us off from everything but that which we’re interested in. How can you trust it? What if it misses something? The thing is, the conscious decision to purchase a particular newspaper has the exact same results. Both are filters, only difference is one has an editor at the helm. Yes, the editor may make decisions that wouldn’t fit into the rules of your ‘filtered homepage,’ but you can’t deny that by purchasing the New York Times you are making a decision about what kind of news you will and won’t be reading.
This is the great thing about the web. It can make people understand that everything is mediated. Damn straight you shouldn’t just trust your personalized homepage to give you all the information you might need, but you also shouldn’t trust your newspaper. Your personalized homepage may favor computer stories over human interest, but what’s wrong with favoring? Fox News seems to get away with it just fine. The big problem jumps out when people believe they are seeing the whole picture.
This conversation eventually led me to thinking about ‘consumption cycles.’ In the internet age can we label the intermediaries between information and myself? Does it follow any kind of pattern? I’ll save that for next time . . .