What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Who Decides What You Read? Hint: It’s Not You

May 4, 2011, 4:33 PM
Newsfeed

Your girlfriend loves reruns of Sex and the City, high heels and champagne. You, on the other hand, like to pour over the Financial Times, drink espressos and debate the pros and cons of raising taxes in the US. You’re an odd couple but a happy one. You believe in the same values, and you understand the world in the same way. Or do you?

If belief systems and consequently behavior are shaped by the information we have, then both you and your girlfriend are growing ever more distant. The reason is that everything your girlfriend “sees” is predicated on what she already likes: Amazon only recommends books to her on dating, marriage and orgasms; Facebook automatically filters her newsfeed so that she only sees updates from friends whose opinions on fashion shows she always comments on; even Google gives her different results for the exact same search that you conduct.

Usually, couples become more similar over time since they influence each other’s thinking. But today, couples that are different will find their differences reinforced by a far more powerful medium: the Web. Every single major Web company observes your interests (for example, the books you buy on Amazon, the articles you read on the New York Times) and then provides you with a buffet of items catered to that interest. You are increasingly balkanized in your own preferences. Eli Pariser rightly believes this is a big problem and in fact contrary to good civic life.

Pariser, founder of the phenomenally popular MoveOn.org which raised millions of dollars for progressive political candidate, is about to publish “The Filter Bubble” later this month. While it looks like an excellent book (we’ve already pre-ordered it), you can get a sneak peak about the content from his insightful TED talk –What the Internet is Hiding From You - on the same topic. He warns that personalized newsfeeds “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.” 

Importantly, Pariser points out that these algorithms are based on our impulse clicks – so when given a choice between viewing a quick slideshow of the Royal Wedding and reading about Obama’s energy policy, you’ll probably click the former. That doesn’t mean that you won't eventually be interested in US energy consumption. However, by only focusing on your initial clicks, the information fed to you gets increasingly skewed towards the instant gratification often vacuous information. And as Pariser warns, “instead of a balanced information diet, you can end up surrounded by information junk food.” 

These algorithmic gatekeepers are essentially keeping us away from the difficult and uncomfortable truths that are necessary if one is going to be a responsible citizen. Also, they are preventing us from being innovative creative thinkers because we are constantly exposed to a narrower and narrower slice of the Web. Pariser urged the crowd, especially the heads of companies like Facebook and Google, to make sure that the algorithms were encoded with “new ideas and new people and different perspectives.” He got a standing ovation.

 

Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute

 

Who Decides What You Read? ...

Newsletter: Share: