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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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    "The Filter Bubble shows how unintended consequences of well-meaning online designs can impose profound and sudden changes on politics. All agree that the Internet is a potent tool for change, but whether changes are for the better or worse is up to the people who create and use it. If you feel that the Web is your wide open window on the world, you need to read this book to understand what you aren't seeing."

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