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Follow the Filter Bubble

Filtering ourselves by eyewear


/ May 25th, 2011 /

Personalization algorithms, especially those that factor in our friends’ preferences, have a way of clumping us into ever more homogeneous and like-minded groups. That’s one of the central ideas of The Filter Bubble.

But, as Eli freely admits, online personalization is not the only force filtering out diversity and sieving in homogeneity. We humans are very good at sorting ourselves into groups that look and think much like ourselves – without the help of algorithms.

The power of homophily, the sociological term for our self-sorting tendencies, hardly needs scholarly backing ; just glancing around any college cafeteria should be enough to convince that we flock to birds of similar feathers. But that doesn’t stop academics from supplying hundreds of studies for evidence. In two such recent papers, researchers show the breadth and depth of our self-sorting behavior.

On the high-commitment end, we marry within our political party. That may not seem surprising, but when you compare it to a weaker tendency to marry people with similar personality traits, it suggests that for the most important decisions in life we value people who think like we do more than those who act like us.

At the other – superficial – extreme, we sit near people who look like us. Based on self reports and experiments, researched subjects tend to find seats next to people of the same gender, race, hair length, hair color and general attractiveness. And, yes, eyeglass wearers prefer sitting next to each other too.


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    "Internet firms increasingly show us less of the wide world, locating us in the neighborhood of the familiar. The risk, as Eli Pariser shows, is that each of us may unwittingly come to inhabit a ghetto of one."

    Clay Shirky, author Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus

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