The growth of the web in our daily lives has created changes in almost everything we do, from booking holidays and tickets, to remote working and instant communication. It’s never been easier for people to communicate almost instantly right across the world. Online communities have formed, aimed at sharing information on every imaginable subject.
We can now get answers to almost anything with a few keystrokes and a press of a return button – very handy when you’re looking for something specific, like desperately trying to recall the name of the singer of ‘Gordon is a Moron’ for example (Jilted John if you’re wondering, who went on to become the wonderful John Shuttleworth). But a big problem arises when you have a virtual blank page to fill and you want to use the web as your source… there’s just too much out there!
The Internet gives us a massive amount of choice that we often don’t navigate through very well. And along the way we’re bombarded with requests for friendships, offers from companies and generally a lot of disparate souls all shouting for our attention, time, money or opinions. If we don’t filter it, we risk succumbing to information overload and distraction.
Part of my role as Community Manager here at Oculus is to scour the web for interesting, relevant and occasionally useful bits of information to share with our many followers on our various Social Media channels. Such a vast amount of information and communication channels now available means it’s easy to get lost in it all. It’s like what’s happened to television. Having so many more channels doesn’t mean there are any more programmes worth watching. There’s still good quality TV out there, but it’s now spread so widely you have to look much harder to find it. This makes it easy to miss things and eventually, if you’re anything like me, you give up looking. It’s no coincidence that the rise in the number of people choosing to watch whole TV series on DVD box sets, or ‘Binge watching’, has taken place alongside the explosion in so-called choice.
To battle with this proliferation of information on the web we need to be able to filter it quickly and intelligently. Firewalls and spam filters have traditionally dealt with the exponential growth of junk mail over the years, and are now very effective in stopping rubbish clogging up our in-boxes, but the web browsing experience is very different.
Our zingy portable devices such as tablets and smartphones are all plugged into this vast network of data almost constantly. This has given rise to aggregator apps such as Flipboard, Zite, Pulse etc., which curate content using algorithms to present users with information and news stories focused on preset interests. These apps are helping us skim the relevant bits we want from the dense web soup. Social media is following suit too with more filtering abilities in both Facebook and Twitter.
Google and Amazon have been using algorithms to tailor our web experience to our own personal likes and wishes for a long time now. How many times have you browsed an item online to then see the same item suddenly advertised on every page you visit? Eli Pariser in his book ‘The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You’ suggests that ignorance of these algorithms is making us individually isolated in a ‘web of one’. We’re offered links to things we like and when we click on them we reinforce and then compound the problem until we find we’re experiencing a very narrow and distilled version of what’s really out there!
So it seems we can’t win… Of course in the end it’s down to how we personally deal with all this information. We don’t have to read everything, reply to every request and share everything we come across. We have to face the fact that if the internet is indispensable to us (which let’s face it, it is), then we’re going to have start learning to use more filtering tools and smarter methods in the way we interact with it or risk drowning in a sea of information.