Saturday, 25 June 2011

Personalisation or personal-isolation

BBC report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-13873028
I first noticed it when searching for a particular theological book on a well-known shopping site. A prominent ad appeared on the bottom of the page encouraging me to attend a church not too far from where I live. Using the page again a few days the ad appeared again, along with others with a similar locality focus or for products and services somehow related to the product for which what I was actually searching. My web use has been 'personalised.' Without having done any deliberate thing to request these add-ons (!) my use of the web has been automatically analysed and content directed into my view that that matches my likes, interests, prejudices, and values. More and more personalisation is promised for my web experience. I will be directed towards things that will interest me. This is to my advantage in a world awash with information and choice, so I'm told. But I'm not so sure.
Sometimes personalisation produces simply daft connections. I was reading a story about a serious crime. When the word 'visit' came up in the report a pop-box appeared telling me the advantages of joining the National Trust! The clash with the content of what I was reading was so severe as to be completely off-putting.
The more serious worry about my Internet use being personalised in a web bubble is the way it limits what I'm doing. I may think I've got a world of choices and options to explore but actually that world is being limited by what the search anlyser considers to be me. What seemed wide open space is being contrained by boundaries I know little about. In place of the world-wide web there is a supposedly 'me-shaped' web bubble that I've have no direct way of influencing.
Yes, I know the adverts directed to me by personalisation help to keep the web free of charges. And yes, I know I can tweek the analysis of me a search engines makes. Nevertheless I don't want to be constrained in a bubble.
It reminds me of the way that faith is too often constrained by the things of prejudice and cultural outlook.  By the grace of God the believer, a person of a particular time, place and experience, is freed into a new community that is the people of God which knows no boundaries of time, place, and culture. The believer remains rooted in the particular, for that is what it is to be human, but also has a foretaste of eternity where those things no longer bind. Day by day we strive to let eternity touch the ordinary - and that's not living in a bubble.

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