We’ve heard a lot of talk recently about how technology reinforces our worldview. Apps and websites like Facebook, Twitter, and even Netflix are using algorithms to send you content based on your previous activity, such as viewing, posting, and “liking” different kinds of content. The same is true of so many of the apps and programs we use on a daily basis, from entertainment to news and information. Suddenly, it feels like AI is running the show, curating content for individuals that align with their current interests.
But consuming the same kinds of content day in and day out can limit our worldview, exposing us to information we’re likely to agree with or enjoy versus content that challenges our current set of beliefs. Studies show America is become more partisan and polarized in the 21st Century, with partisan antipathy on the rise across both Democrats and Republicans. A recent study by MIT’s Technology Review shows how today’s media landscape largely falls on partisan lines, bifurcating our access to information.
With information coming from so many different apps and sources, many of which depend on artificially intelligent algorithms, finding ways to challenge our worldview can feel like a losing battle.
Let’s start by learning about how these algorithms work. While most apps and channels have their own approach to the curation process, these algorithms largely work towards the same end goal: driving engagement.
Netflix uses a complicated algorithm to show you movies and TV shows you’re likely to be interested in based on your previous viewing habits. If you like a certain genre of a show, you will see more shows that fall into that same genre. This might seem innocent enough, but you may find that your entertainment options are being limited to a certain version of yourself that may no longer exist. While it may seem like you have an unlimited number of options to choose from, you’re selecting from a list of options that were chosen for you.
The same is true of social media giants like Twitter and Facebook. These apps use your previous engagement activity to show you posts and accounts you may be interested in. So, once you start down a path of consuming certain types of posts and content, these apps will continue showing similar types of content. As you can see, it’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of repetition.
But, at the end of the day, all these apps and algorithms essentially want one thing: your time and attention. These models are designed to keep you watching, clicking, and “liking” for as long as possible.
But why do these apps and algorithms keep sending us the same kind of content if they want us to engage for longer periods of time?
Studies show our brains are wired to become defensive when we encounter information that challenges our worldview. The results show the parts of our brain associated with identity and fending off threats tend to light up when we encounter information that disrupts our traditional way of thinking about the world. This suggests that our worldview is essentially a part of our identity. So, if a post on Facebook or a movie on Netflix challenges our worldview, we may become overly defensive or hostile, feeling a need to fight off this so-called threat to our identity.
This can be an unpleasant experience for some individuals, so it’s no surprise that apps and channels want to limit our exposure to challenging content as much as possible. But just because something feels comfortable or familiar doesn’t mean it’s what we’re actually looking for. Many of us have multiple interests or may be longing for something new. We’re all complex, intelligent beings and our tastes and consumption habits should reflect that.
If you feel like you’re living in a bubble, there are plenty of ways to break the cycle of consuming the same kinds of content.
Life is full of interesting stories and ideas. Don’t let algorithms limit you to just one user profile. Open your mind and find new content to explore today!