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Cass Sunstein wrote an interesting book called Republic.com in which he argued that the internet has a general tendency to enhance confirmation bias and like problems, and that it could have a potentially pernicious effect on democracy. I think his (and your) point quite right but I also think that it is a little less bad than he at least predicted (and his point is a little different from yours). Take today's "Wiener" story (can you make this stuff up?). Although the story was broken by a republican blogger, once verified it became part of the general news media and all over the internet.

And in the good news, I notice that at least we're still doing well in the somewhat narrower categories of Frances and Alice Woolleys.

Within any media there is going to be the hardcore consumer and the casual consumer. The problem with hardcore media consumption is that there is an often undiscussed opportunity cost to becoming a hardcore consumer. How many movies does one have to watch before they become a "film" critic and no longer enjoy schlock like hangover two? How many books does one have to read to have the proper literary insight to enjoy dense classical literature? How many blogs does one have to read before they can rise above the partisan chatter of the Internet?

Mediocre works of art are there for the casual consumer and help them along the road to becoming the hardcore. Most importantly, why do many people who have made this journey seek to shut off the most accessible path for others to achieve the same refined sense of art?

In any case the garbage gets forgotten and the classics endure.

Alice - "good news" ;-)

Ian - "Mediocre works of art are there for the casual consumer and help them along the road to becoming the hardcore."

Is there any evidence on this - whether mediocre art is a gateway to higher things, or if it undermines finer sensibilities? If I want my children to grow up loving Mozart, should I play them any kind of music that they enjoy, or should I surround them with nothing but classical music?

Hobson actually argues that an educated consumer is better than any kind of eugenics - but the question is how to get there from here?

Although "you-genics" is more salient with the internet, I think it is actually less significant than before the internet. Our range of search for products and items if interest is vast whereas before we often had to rely on the recommendations of a few friends and associates. *That* was the real you-genics -- once you pick your social circle, you are stuck.

Also, there is always a trade-off with filtering. If we want unconstrained results, we would always jump to a random web page and consequently never find anything we want. You argue for bottom-up filtering and this may be better but now it is an empirical question: Are the results better?

"the question is how to get there from here?"

Eugenics?

The link you want for turning off Google personalized search is here: http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?answer=54048

The google results may not be as "personalized" as you think. I get the same results as you if I let google redirect me from its .com home page to google.ca. I have no search history that could reasonably lead any Woolley to great prominence; and I'm fairly sure google is doing the right thing and not screwing with my search results on google.ca, since I haven't let it set a cookie.

So it's most likely just going by what country it thinks you're in rather than anything more personal, or at least that's enough to explain the results you got. Still it is disconcerting and annoying, and essentially the same thing. To defeat it, you can at present go to "www.google.com/?q=".

If it weren't for the confusing default behaviour to redirect you from the US domains (google.us also redirects), it'd actually be useful feature to get country-specific results like that.

Shan - thanks for the tip. Google makes it pretty easy to restrict searches to, say, Australia, if you want to order flowers for Australian friends from Canada. But I've found it harder to work out how to restrict Google to searches from the US only (which I want to do if I'm working on some US policy debate, say), or to global searches.

hmm, I had been using google.com (instead of .ca) when I wanted search not based on any particular country. Perhaps because I think of Google as a US company and therefore that should be the default. But I suppose it's probably biased to the US as much as the other countries' versions are to them.

I think I'll try Google Belize as my new default search page for a while. English-speaking, but not such a huge Internet presence, so maybe less-biased results for searching the world.

@Frances, I dont think there is anything other than anecdotal evididence. I dont see how terrible works of art would undermine anyones sensibilities though. I just think that everything I've ever had a passion for has gone through a set of phases. Casual interest with no direction of my consumption, "catching the bug" and moving towards a more thoughtful and directed form of consumption, and then finally a state of general understand of the lay of the land where I can look back at the initial consumption as misguided but a necessary step of that journey.

Granted some people, and for myself some topics, will never catch the bug and are perfectly happy to enjoy the entertaining stuff that people with more refined tastes would looks down at. But thats fine, theres an opportunity cost to refining ones taste and we shouldnt deride someones enjoyment of a particular art form simply because it doesnt meet our standards. In a sense they are better off, they are probably getting just as much enjoyment as we are at a much lower cost, see: the other extreme end of art snobs who are cynical about everything.

To clarify a bit let me take an example from my life, me and my girlfriend recently watched Apocalypse Now and she pretty much hated it even though its one of the greatest films of all times. Her criticism was that the plot meandered and it was 2 hours wasted for 1 hours of story. Now to someone who has seen a lot of movies and understands how movies are structured and scripted they can see that this is part of its brilliance, it doesnt hold your hand and allows you to come to your own conclusions. The movie is about the Vietnam War and not about some scripted plot. Most movies are really scripted, hand holding events, that have a tendency to over rely on obvious exposition to move the plot forward but to someone who hasnt spent the time watching a ton of films the structure of movies remains hidden and doesnt detract from their enjoyment. She wasnt watching the same movie I was because she wasnt watching it within the context of film as a whole.

I think watching a lot of movies can most definately move someone from the less educated type of viewer to the more refined type but, again, there is an opportunity cost. Also, it becomes easier to distinguish what is refined art simply because refined art is doing something other artists are not. Refined art is something that does not rely on cliches but at some point those cliches were avant guarde. To the uneducated viewer these types of movies can still educate the casual viewer.

Interesting topic though

Here's a TED talk from someone who shares these concerns:

http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2011/06/10/a-new-form-of-filter-failure-the-dangers-of-the-online-filter-bubble/

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