Digital Caricatures

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Male penguins have sex with dead females – not because they’re necrophiles but because they can’t tell the difference when the females are “in position”.

UK PM and wife David and Samantha Cameron accidentally left their young daughter at a pub.

These were the news stories I read this morning in those spare moments between tasks at work. They’re amusing, although I think it’s worth arguing that the penguin story is also informative, and on the basis of both day-to-day and world-changing events, they are useless knowledge to absorb. News on the violently suppressed Syrian revolution is too depressing for me to actively keep up with. Talks relating to the lost cause/losing war in Afghanistan between the US and Pakistan have fallen apart, but after 10 years I’m sick of hearing news about how the war I now believe we never should have started will now never end. Even the Sandusky trial is legitimately relevant to world events as it opens a can of worms about trusting members of the community to work with children. But I didn’t feel like reading these stories this morning, and to be honest I haven’t gotten around to reading them since.

Right now I’m engaged in a book called The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser, which examines how the internet and its new focus on social media affects the breadth of our knowledge. When Time Magazine chose the person of the year as “You” because of this reshaping, many of us may have felt a little flattered, like we were suddenly important. Well, we’ve always been important in the world of marketing because businesses have always wanted our money. But broadcasted advertisement – and I’m including distributed print in here since it’s broad and casted albeit in an analogue way – of the past has been equally applied to everybody. Target marketing was based on the assumption that certain types of people were the likely audience of certain kinds of media, but the choice to watch or read these things or not was always open. We were always aware of major televised events like sports championships or entertainment awards, and were able to watch them. If we didn’t watch them, we would see coverage in the news the next day, of whatever medium. Newspapers and broadcast evening news covered a variety to satisfy the diverse market and increase viewership or sales. Everybody, if they chose, got the same package.

Social media, however, can track your clicks and likes and intrude on your reading habits in so many ways that it knows what to present to you, what will be successful in gaining your attention. With cookies and remaining signed into social networking sites, websites will be able to generate a feed of news based on what they already know about you. What appears on the front page of a news feed for you will be different for somebody who has entirely different interests. Websites catering to your every desire in consuming information may seem like a compliment to your importance, but a) don’t flatter yourself, they do this for everyone; and b) the tunnel vision and disconnect from reality that the wealthy have developed, i.e. “let them eat cake”, is bad for you as a person and society as a whole. We all could use broader knowledge.

I can’t change this direction of the internet’s distribution of knowledge by myself. Nonetheless it is my responsibility to develop my own habits to push my reading habits toward more important topics. I don’t care that much about celebrities or most sports, so I can rest assured that I am still in touch with matters of substance. But I really should work against being typecasted as somebody primarily interested in penguins having sex.

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