Throughout childhood, I was a picky eater. It was not until college that I started expanding my palate beyond pasta, meat, potatoes and a slim vegetable selection. Consequently, I was surprised by the fondness I had for different foods that I never considered eating in the past. In retrospect, it was not that I disliked certain foods, rather I had never tried them in the first place.
One cannot dispute the importance of eating healthy, yet when it comes to consuming information, how does one’s infodiet influence their thoughts, opinions, beliefs and actions? Many of us think we are being fed a well-balanced stream of content delivered via our technological devices, although the reality may be shocking.
The truth is, algorithms that internet search engines and social media platforms use to deliver us feeds of content based on our interests, tendencies and activity inevitably create what Eli Pariser — chief executive of Upworthy, author and speaker — famously coined as a filter bubble. Before we ask “what’s the big deal?,” we must look at the bigger picture. According to Pariser in a 2011 TED Talk given long before we understood the severity of our situation, “this moves us very quickly toward a world in which the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.”
You may be wondering, “why do we allow this to happen?” As James Paul Gee states in The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning, “Humans display what is called a ‘confirmation bias’ [...], a seemingly built-in mental bias that makes humans favor information that confirms their beliefs.” Therefore, we ingest content from perspectives aligned with our own, especially when it comes to “highly emotionally charged issues or deeply entrenched beliefs” (2013, p.2).
To progress socially, culturally and educationally, we must actively attempt to reassess and pop the filter bubbles surrounding us. It is not say we should solely seek information free of bias, but rather curate feeds of content which explore as many perspectives as possible.
Reevaluating My Infodiet
In an attempt to reevaluate the streams of information I consume online, I spent the week analyzing what was being algorithmically engineered to my liking via the social media platform I spend most time on — Twitter. What I found was interesting; most of the content being pushed through my feed was from educators, which didn’t seem to pose an issue. However, I recognize that to strive to offer my students the most positive learning experience, I should consume a more well-balanced stream of information, expanding my horizon beyond the perspective of educators to that of other stakeholders in education, including guidance counselors, social workers, administrators, policymakers, psychologists and thought-leaders, as well as business and world leaders. Like in other industries, there are many roles in education, and it is valuable for teachers to analyze our field through the lenses of all of them.
It was time to seek out these varied voices. Yet, after “following” more and more accounts on Twitter and finding myself in a spiral of clickbait — i.e., suggested follows — it occurred to me that I was missing the mark. Then it hit me. At a conference I attended several months ago, I was introduced to Feedly, a content aggregator application that allows users to create and organize feeds from RSS subscriptions, websites and just about any other online content stream. It is helpful because, unlike social media platforms that use algorithms to curate content, Feedly allows users to manually curate their own content. While I had stopped proactively using Feedly — for no particular reason — I decided to revamp my feeds, this time with a focused purpose.
I urge you to assess your infodiet and decide whether you need to make changes as well. We can all take charge of our own curated content, but we must remember to consistently and critically analyze what we are presented with. And just because we balance the perspectives we consume does not mean we should stop questioning and exploring the opinions and beliefs of others, as well as the sources we are obtaining them from.
Gee, J. P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. New York City, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.
Pariser, Eli. (2011). Beware online “filter bubbles” [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles