They know what you did last summer

filterbubble Eli Parisel gives an eye-opening TED talk where he explains the concept of a “filter bubble”. It is our personal universe, where we are surrounded by the things we usually click on. It is a concept where we are served with what we usually would look for.  On one hand, it is a comfortable concept – the information gets filtered and we are provided with quick results according to our usual preferences. On the other hand, we are not aware of this process; therefore we don’t know what is taken away from us. This filtering done by internet sites prevents us from getting information about opposing opinions on the topic. This might sound like the classical “I want it because I can’t have it” case, and it might be, I don’t know. But the concept of these filter bubbles is quite shocking and can leave us living in one.

In my previous posts I have talked a lot about how we live at a time when there is enormous amount of information out there. I talked about all three selective processes, but I never realised that we actually live at a time when the selecting is done for us. And it is done according to what we have exposed ourselves to in the past. There is a danger to our online privacy, as we are never really aware to what extent internet gathers our data. As much as technology and innovation is meant to ease our lives, it is also creating scary effects on our personal space.

This summer, I read a book “The power of habit” by Charles Duhigg. It explained the importance of habits in our personal lives, advertisement and management. As well as that, he was explaining how companies know more about us than we can imagine. Duhigg tells us about Target company. They customize the special offer coupons sent to individuals according to their past purchases. The book talks about cases when companies are able to even predict how close the women are to labour to provide them with coupons on diapers and baby clothes immediately after the baby is born without them knowing. An extreme example talks about a case when Target figured out that a high-school girl was pregnant before her father did. (Extracts of the book can be found HERE)privacy_header

As much as we have to worry about our privacy being in danger, we also need to think about the consequences of these online data gatherings. It is easier than ever to become isolated from conflicting opinions. This brings back the importance of offline interactions and real conversations. No technology can isolate us from opposing opinions when engaged in a discussion with real people outside of the world of browsers and double-clicks.

It is all about a good discussion

I am a fan of a good conversation.opinion2

I love to see how the discussion develops supporting both sides of an argument. As much as I love to observe a good discussion, I also like to participate. And a good discussion often has the power to shift my existing opinion or create a strong one if I did not before.

The beauty and the obstacle of discussion is the fact that people want themselves to be perceived favourably. This can cause two possible outcomes: either a participant can be too intimidated to speak up, or they are pressured to develop they argument into a strong one before saying it out loud. This is why it is good to sometimes be in an intimidating environment – that can make us push our boundaries and make the best of our abilities.

However, it takes a lot of courage to develop a strong argument, whereas it doesn’t take much to agree with the direction of the dominant position. This can result in “spiral of silence” where the minority opinions are silenced completely over the time. This can be caused also by participating in discussion with people that we think are a lot alike us. The individuals don’t want their reputation to suffer in eyes of those who they think of as similar to them.

In groups that are significantly different from me, I tend to agree less with their opinions; also I am more likely to speak up because of the lack of pressure to be perceived favourably. I am less likely to agree with what the others are saying and consistent to express my opinion to change theirs. The same way it takes less courage to develop an argument when in a group of people with similar views. For me this raised a question if it is better to communicate and discuss with people who are not similar to me, because of the bigger probability that I will speak up my mind. (?)

Good conversation is all about the opinion clashes and arguments behind those. There are many obstacles that stand in way of expressing one’s ideas. It highly depends on the environment, the group and the consistency of opinions. People tend to pick discussion groups with similar views. But the question is if that is the best way to provide a qualitative discussion. The comfort zone is not always the best place in life.

Unanswered questions

Jennings Bryant’s and Susan Thompson’s book „Fundamentals of Media Effects” describes agenda setting as a function that may not be successful to tell people what to think, but rather what to think about. It is strongly linked to the way how media has to sort out the information and decide which information will be covered in the news. Arguably those are the issues that will set the agenda for the public. Or does it happen the other way around?

I personally think that a lot of the things I think and talk about in my everyday life is set by the media. The topics with the biggest coverage will be the ones I will be talking about with my friends and family. However, it is not media that sets my opinion. Media in this case serves as a initiator of this conversation, as it has been widely covered, therefore it calls for a discussion. The biggest headlines and biggest stories are often the ones that are talked about the most. And in my opinion, these discussions are what form the opinions of individuals, not the news coverage.

However, this would somehow mean that news and articles with smaller coverage would not be discussed among groups that often. The lack of „in your face” coverage would result in less people informed about the topic, therefore less discussion. Would that mean that in this case lack of the two step flow interaction would result in media actually being able to tell people what to think? I think it is a scenario that exists, especially for people who are heavy news consumers. There is no time to discuss most of the ideas consumed through the media; therefore the news can often be the main source of information and opinion related to the topic.

Agenda setting is an interesting concept, with many real-life examples observed from our lives. However, for me the question who are actually the agenda setters remains unanswered. I often think it is the media, as it seems to be the obvious answer. But aren’t there theories that state that consumers follow messages matching their existing ideas? Don’t we only read the things we are interested in?

Cultivate and harvest

ImageI am sure we all have that grandmother or grandfather that spends his or her day in front of the television. In my opinion, those are the strongest examples where we can see the cultivation theory coming to life. My grandfather complains a lot. He thinks that the world is evil and my country is corrupt. He has lost the sense of what is happening in the world because of the images that media has planted in his mind. My grandmother is similar. She thinks that the world is violent, and doesn’t approve the fact I am living and studying abroad because “did you see what happened to the girl in this TV show?”

These are just some of the messages that can be cultivated in people’s brain, and I believe that we have all seen some of the effects and experienced them on ourselves. What bothers me about this topic is the extent to which these ideas are actually caused by the television. There are so many more things that influence our opinions – our experiences, our opinion leaders, even the street art or graffiti we see on the building. It is hard to distinguish the point that changed the way we look at one particular thing.Image

I can see the initial discussion on cultivation in the era of television. However, we live in a century where messages are exchanged through too many means to be sure of the effect of one single media. But there are trends that can be seen in all the media that have been cultivated in our brain. The concept of beautiful/ugly is one of the most cultivated concepts in our brain, and it is one of the hardest one to harvest from our brain. Any common stereotype, prejudice or common-sense assumption would fall in the same category. And those are hard to change, even if the strongest of the opinion leaders would set the new trend.

It is extremely hard to tell where these ideas – so cultivated in our brain come from. I would sometimes be frustrated when seeing the mainstream community around me. But I can’t blame the television, because it cannot be proven that these ideas are caused by it.

Democracy in news

To be honest, whpillars-of-democracyen studying the effects of mass media, I get many arguments for and against it. I have always liked the topics with a long list of arguments, and here comes another aspect of how we might look at media, this time – from a bit more political view.

Western-style democracies live with a system of representative democracy, which is a principle that elected individuals represent a group of people. This system gives the elected people a power of decision making regarding the group that has elected these individuals. The people in power are watched over and often judged by the people who elected them. And these people require a complete transparency towards the people in power. It is required to have knowledge about their actions as they are affecting the lives of the others

Michael Schudson, the author of the book “Why democracies need an unlovable press” gives six primary functions of journalism in a democracy: information, investigation, social empathy, provision of a public forum and service as an advocate for political programmes. Last but not least, journalism should publicize and promote representative democracy. This should be done in a way that it is taken a step forward from simply providing society with free exchange of ideas. There is a need of democracy to engage in a conversation and it is press that contributes to a democratic conversation.

Powerful journalism is needed because of several reasons. For a democracy to occur there should be no corruption. And corruption is less likely to occur where there is more exposure from the media. People in power are limited in their shady actions where there is powerful journalism taking place. Good transparent relationship between those in power and the society can be achieved through quality journalism and good exposure. Journalists need to be watching over the current affairs and act as informants in order to provide the transparency that is needed in democracy.

We can all admit that the big headlines can be a pain in the ass, but it is not the only thing that journalism provides us with. There are many examples of a quality journalism that is exposing the acts of those in power. And often these people will be most often represented in the media, as they are the ones who affect our lives in the same spectacular way we have affected their positions. And the affect we have on each other is very significant.

A carrot or a candy?

In my prevschool_choiceious posts I have talked about how much information there is surrounding us every day. It is not physically possible to go through all the information that is delivered to us, so the individuals need to start filtering the messages that they are getting from various samples. This „filtering” needs to happen efficiently and resemble the individuals’ opinions and first choices.

As explained in Stanley J. Baran’s and Dennis K. Davis’s book „Mass communication theory”, there are three different ways how information can be altered, observed or selected in mass communication theory – exposure, retention and perception. Selective exposure is the idea that people like to expose themselves to ideas that are similar to their own existing ideas. Selective retention tells us that people will remember the messages that are meaningful to them better than the ones that are not. And selective perception shows that people will alter the meanings so that they become consistent to their existing ideas.

Some of these ideas seem to be obvious to everyone, as that is what we do all the time. When opening a newspaper, we will first go over the whole paper to see the topics, and later pick the ones that are most interesting to read first. People have the tendency to do the most pleasurable things before the least pleasurable. That is the whole art of procrastination that students master every day.

Big mass media concern is the question “how to approach people and deliver to them knowing that according to the attitude change theory people will only relate to the topics they are passionate about?” We are exposed to more and more information, but in order to gain anything from it, we have to choose to absorb the messages. Many people would fail to expand their interests and learn from information that doesn’t seem appealing. And media would fail in the same area when not delivering the news in a way that could attract the readers. This all would cause a downward spiral decreasing the interests of individuals – as they learn less, they become less interested in things, so they will learn less from that. I could continue demonstrating the spiral for a while.

What is clear is that people seek information that they are passionate about in order to be able to expand on it and forward it to others – more confident I am about a topic, bigger chance there is that I will become an opinion leader about this particular topic. This all comes back to the “two step flow theory” that also proves that mass media can be inefficient in order to affect the society.

Building influence

An influencer is somebody with a different way of thinking, different way of expressing themselves. They are able to predict what is going to be the next thing, and comfortably engage with this novelty. These are individuals whose coevals would choose to follow to, because the things they are paying attention to will be the things that everyone else is going to be crazy about in a short while. timemostinfluential1

We see large-scale influencers around us all the time – starting from the cool kids in the school backyard, ending with movie stars and celebrities that we see all over the media. However, how does this concept work? How comes that in a world where we are so passionate of being individuals, we pay so much attention to what the “cool kids” of the society are saying and trying to adapt? In my opinion, one of the matters is time saving. Being an influencer must be very hard – it takes time and effort to always follow the novelty, to always be updated with what is “cool”. It is hard to always stay informed, especially in the world of millions of choices and offers.

Influencers’ opinion is the one that matters for many people. Being an influencer is often about the activity. Everyone can be a journalist and promoter in these times. However, to be an influencer, one has to follow the trend, to be one step ahead and think in advance. The other thing is gaining trust. It takes time to develop sources that you trust. Where there is a risk, the trust becomes a major issue, which can put the influencers under pressure.

Klout is one of the companies that offer the measurement of influence, depending on your social network activity on a scale of 1 to 100. On the top of their list you can find Barack Obama and Justin Bieber. To raise the score, one must have a wide network and many people engaging with their updates on media. They even offer the opportunity of getting in touch with influential people to cooperate in future. This score is pretty much chowing what this whole concept is about – more people engaging with your ideas would mean wider network, therefore bigger influence, therefore a higher score. And we all love to listen and engage with those who have earned our trust.

I am a consumer in this crazy world of innovation; I am the typical lost consumer that is confused by all these different options and offers. I am the typical person that when in need of something, would choose the option with the most “likes” and “thumbs up”. I choose which video to watch on YouTube by looking at how many people have viewed it before me. I choose a movie by seeing its popularity between my friends. But when it comes to areas where there is any risk, I would be a typical laggard. I like to stick what I have and what I am used to. I would switch only at the very end and necessity. Yes, I am pretty mainstream, even if I have the potential network of contacts from many parts of the world to become an early adaptor one day.most-influential-100-1024x428