“Information Cocoons” — Some of you guys may have heard of this word several times. It is first created by the Harvard scholar Cass R. Sunstein in his in his 2006 book Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce. From then on, it has been used in many articles and posts, warning the Netizens not to get in the trap of algorism.
This term indicates a phenomenon on the internet: when facing numerous information online, people tend to see only what they want to see, and the algorism will select their preferred information to them, which ends up narrowing down their horizon just like a silkworm making a cocoon for itself. According to Sunstein, the Internet constructs a “communications universe in which we hear only what we choose and only what comforts us.”
It sounds much reasonable, and as a Netizen myself, I have to say I have the same feeling that I am cocooning myself. We all have our personal circles online, we know people who share the same interest with us, and we prefer to follow those whom we agree with. The algorism helps you, as a Netizen, to quickly find the information that you need among a great deal of trash information, and find a group of people who can “really understand you”.
But you may realize that under such circumstances, you are exploring the world from a single perspective. The algorism improves your online experience by reducing the diversity of your information so that you enter the safe zone. The feeling of being controlled by technology is always depressing, right?
Nowadays, many people argue that the so-called Information Cocoon is in fact not real. Even if you live before the 2000s, chances are that you will skip the uninterest blocks in your newspaper. What the algorism does is just save the time of the act of your skip. You are not a puppet of the algorism, it is your mind that chooses to cocoon itself, not the information-selecting system. Rather, the messy information online is of great help in breaking the modern people’s cocoon, so that they will not be as stubborn as the previous generations (who may have ignored the uninterest parts of their newspaper for their entire life).
For example, according to the New York Times, the two parties –Democrats and Republicans don’t see the world differently just because they see different news on the Internet; instead, the reason why they see the news differently is that they’re different parties in the first place. The selected information is not the reason why they are who they are, but it can shape their views and further solidify their “stereotypes” toward a political issue.
Anyway, it is always better to occasionally step out of your online safe zone to have a better understanding of the entire world. As long as we overcome the lazyness of our own mental inertia, the technoogy will no longer be the excuse when we cover our own eyes.
J. Gram Slattery, The Information Cocoon. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2014/3/5/harvard-information-cocoon/
Americans Don’t Live in Information Cocoons, The New York Times.https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/25/upshot/americans-dont-live-in-information-cocoons.html