More and more, I’ve noticed that my online browsing seems to steer me in familiar circles. For example:

  • Facebook makes suggestions on things to read that are very much in line with what I am already reading
  • Amazon suggests books and products based on books and products that I have already searched or purchased
  • Google searches net results that seem tailored specifically to me
  • Twitter, iTunes, Vitacost, Songza, Netflix…..basically anywhere I go on the web seems to make suggestions that are all about ME and my preferences

Coincidence? I think not!

While it is convenient to have information personalized specifically to me and my tastes, I sometimes get the feeling that this constant personalization must have implications for how we develop ideas, come to know about products and people and in general, understand the world.

According to Eli Pariser, a pioneering online organizer, the co-founder of Upworthy and author of The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, it does.

In a personalized world, we will increasingly be typed and fed only news that is pleasant, familiar, and confirms our beliefs-and because these filters are invisible, we won’t know what is being hidden from us. Our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, leaving less room for the unexpected encounters that spark creativity, innovation, and the democratic exchange of ideas.

Here is a talk Eli gave in 2011 on “filter bubbles”.

The implications for how these filters are affecting what we think we know are considerable and far-reaching.

As humans we are by nature cognitive misers – always looking for mental shortcuts and simplicities as we seek to make sense of the world. These built-in, largely invisible filters make it that much easier for us to ignore and discount all that does not easily fit with our beliefs. And because these filters are largely invisible, in many cases we have no way to know what we do not know.

Want to “pop your filter bubble”? Eli lists 10 practical, quick and easy things you can do to help reduce personalization filters as you navigate the web.


Recently I read an article that I feel is a foundational shift in how we humans acquire information.

In Scientific America’s December 2013 Issue, the article “How Google is changing your brain” laid out a research based perspective that postulates that the Internet has replaced our typical human memory partners.

In the past, a team of people (a family, work group, etc.) would disperse information amongst each to assemble a set of knowledge that far exceeded the knowledge of the individual. We did this for practical reasons, one person just can’t know it all, and so we spread the memory load.

Theoretically this made us more effective as a team rather than individually “two heads are better than one” became a common phrase for a reason. But the trend is pointing towards one head plus the Internet is better than two!

Today, the Internet is replacing the human memory exchange. And why not? The Internet is available instantly, anywhere, whenever we want, about anything, and we can get multiple opinions quickly too.

I do not think there is a person who would argue against the Internet being an efficient method to get information, to learn, to become knowledgeable. Yes knowledgeable, at least that is how users perceive it. Research says that when we use the Internet as our source, we tend to internalize it as “our” knowledge. Rather than regarding the Internet as a source, we begin to look at it as a cognitive tool.

I can imagine the huffing and the rolling eyes going on right now. Yes there are great pitfalls in this thinking that the Internet creates knowledge. I realize there is a flip side. The common phrase “knowing enough to be dangerous” exists for a reason. Not to mention, the expertise we each hold, that we worked hard to earn; the Internet surely cannot hold a candle to that. Can it? Accessing our specialized knowledge will most certainly be more valuable. Won’t it?

I say that may very well be so, but finding you or me and getting an answer RIGHT now is far too complex vs. the instant ease of the Internet competitor. We have said many times in this blog, if nothing else, we humans are wired to be efficient, so human memory and knowledge partners lose, the Internet wins. The digital partner will not be perfect (and truthfully the human partner is not perfect either) but like it or not, most will consider it good enough for most situations.

This sure got me thinking about the implications.

In business we need to make sure that our business offerings are truly value added; contextualizing, sense making and application will need to accompany information. Experience will be an even more critical part of any client exchange. Also be aware that the savvy consumer will arrive informed and require a more sophisticated starting point, this will require more of your front line and all touch points.

Well it seems that maybe one head and the Internet not only suffices, but may actually be better.

Who’s in your knowledge expansion group? Humans? Or is it the Internet?


Internet Anger

by Vicki on January 24, 2014

I’m blogging about the obvious this week – the Internet is an angry place.

If you spend any amount of time online, you know that anger is one of the most common expressions of emotion you see as you navigate the Internet. Bloggers write angry posts, podcasters spew angry rants, Facebookers somehow get into battles of words over seemingly trivial issues and Twitter-ers manage to get into scuffles that even make the news.

According to Nick English of USA Today,

Beihang University researchers studied 70 million Weibo “tweets” over a six-month period, sorting them into the emotional categories of anger, joy, sadness, and disgust. While sadness and disgust didn’t appear to cause sympathetic emotion, happy tweets were likely to cause joy among those who follow and retweet them. Unfortunately, rage was the emotion most likely to spread across social media…

But I don’t think this completely explains what prompted me to write this post – a question on a nearby Facebook community site that asked about residents’ interest in a new business opportunity. To date there are almost 200 replies and many of them ooze with anger and hate.


Why do people get so inflamed by online interactions? Is it the proverbial chicken or the egg? Do people come to the Internet angry or is it something intrinsic to online interaction that invites anger to brew?

Without any empirical data to support my claims, here’s what I think:

    • One logical explanation is that the anonymity the Internet offers makes it much easier to spew anger than it would if you were in the local grocery store interacting in person. This stuff doesn’t happen very often when you are face to face.
    • Communicating our thoughts and feelings is tough at the best of times. It is even tougher through a medium where you don’t have the luxury of seeing how your words are affecting others.
    • The Internet affords us a medium of communication where you can spend hours crafting the message and nobody interrupts. It is the perfect medium for a monologue. If you do have a bone to pick, you can pick it really really well online.
    • On the flip side, you can type up a quick response and let it fly into cyberspace with very little thought. It is SO easy to put something out there without thinking it through.
    • People pay more attention to negative information. The negativity bias refers to an asymmetry in the way we perceive good and bad information in that we give more weight and consideration to bad than we do to good (for more info, check out this post)

And finally, I do think that people might be coming to the Internet angry. Or at least open to the emotion of anger. And the Internet most definitely delivers!

When you beat up someone physically, you get exercise and stress relief; when you assault him verbally on the Internet, you just harm yourself.
― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.
― Aristotle


Stories to Tell

March 8, 2013

If you’ve worked with PROVOKE in the past, you’ve likely heard us talk about the impact “stories” can make when communicating with your audiences. The use of story can easily set the context for a thorny or complex issue. Stories can quickly evoke emotion and can serve as excellent tools for making a deep connection. […]

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Hang Up and Text Me

January 25, 2013

I’ve blogged a few times over the past year about texting and how our communication and consequently our relationships are quickly changing. A few days ago, I was listening to a podcast on which a couple successful personalities were talking about how they dislike getting voice mails (i.e., they have to take time to listen […]

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