I do not like oatmeal, but I like The Oatmeal Comic, especially the comic titled “You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you.” Here is the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_aTN3yKOkY. (It caught my attention.) First, the cartoonist presents scientific information in a non-threatening, nonscientific way by using the form of a comic. The cartoonist starts by dispelling commonly-held beliefs such as George Washington had wooden teeth by presenting evidence from various sources. He asks if we, the reader, are stressed when presented with fresh evidence debunking popular beliefs such as Thomas Krapper did not invent the flush toilet. Most readers, were not offended by the new evidence since it did not challenge our core beliefs.
However, the cartoonist cites research from USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute study where researchers reported that when participants’ core intellectual belief were challenged, they felt as though they were physically attacked, according to MRI brain scans. Specifically, their amygdala (or the part of the brain that experiences emotions) responded to an intellectual attack the same way as it responded to physical attack. So, the researchers concluded that “core beliefs are inflexible, rigid, and incredibly sensitive when being challenged.” As a result of these counterarguments, participants will double-down on their beliefs and defend them, even though they may be wrong. Researchers call this The Backfire Effect. We need to be aware of this Backfire Effect; so that if our core beliefs are being challenged, we understand what is happening to us physiologically.
The USC study brings me to Eli Pariser’s research in the New York Times Bestseller The Filter Bubble, where he cites Media Lab’s Nicholas Negroponte in that media platforms are embracing the “sycophantic personalization” approach to news or a “personalized, filter-bubble world.” Media sources do not want to offend viewers. They want them to remain passive, “since passivity is an efficacious form of persuasion.” In other words, passive viewers will watch the commercials. They will not turn the channel. It is also revealing that Americans spend 36 hours a week watching television, and they are not watching the news.
The Internet has transformed the cable and news industry. There has been a steady decline in people watching the news and buying newspapers. With the democratization of the news industry, John Dewey and Walter Lippman present two different points of view. On the one end of the spectrum, Lippman believed that “the media were able to manipulate what people thought easily.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Dewey, a great philosopher of democracy, argues that the Internet “opens more opportunities for engagement” and that “journalists and newspapers need to play a critical, changing role in this attention economy.”
In his New York Times Bestseller Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser describes the phenomenon of the filter bubble where through the use of algorithms and aggregate statistics,” where news articles are “pushed” into people’s media feeds. Although Pariser contends that people have more control by using “pull technology.” Along with the democratization of the news, there also comes “the lowest, common denominator of information.” Pariser raises a concern: In our attention economy, how do journalists and broadcasters cover “things that are complicated on dull”? Most people do not want to read about the impeachment trials because it is long and boring. How do we produce informed citizens in the context of the filter bubble and the attention economy?
Pariser ends by saying, “There’s no going back, of course.” And we cannot start over, as the author of “Open is Cancelled” advocates. There’s no turning back. However, it is vital to burst this filter bubble by supporting NYT, NPR, and “editors of old media” because they tackle complicated issues. They are not ‘pandering’ to the masses or ratings. In order for democracy to thrive, we need to be aware of what is happening outside of our sphere and our “immediate self-interest.” Learning different perspectives is a sign of progress and a “bedrock of Democracy.”
It is time to burst the bubble.