Eli Pariser, of MoveOn.org fame, has just come out with a book about how the internet filters information for us—even when we don't know it, and don't want it to. Pariser takes the experience I touched on in The Trouble with Choice, pursues it to its roots, and explains it better than I ever could.
The consequences of this kind of filtering for our political and social life are enormous. Democracy is hard enough when we share the same facts; it is impossible if we are being shunted into parallel universes.
In March, the TED conference invited him to preview his call for an ethical, open internet. With Bill Gates and Google executives in the audience (!), he made a powerful case: here's a 9-minute video of his talk. It's truly eye-opening.
Pariser's work, interestingly enough, confirms my recent experience of doing internet research for this past week's series on drug shortages. I found out about the shortages initially through a subscription medical journal, but when I googled to find more widely available reports, I got hardly any useful hits. I found this puzzling, but was even more perplexed when I would perform the same searches again a day later, then the day after that, and so on, and each time get more and more relevant hits that had clearly been there all along. If you've ever noticed this pattern yourself, you've got to watch the video.
And if you haven't noticed this happening, then you really have to watch the video.