Don’t fence me in; I’m more than what you know about me

A couple of things recently got me thinking about the issue of over-personalization, or more precisely of external forces working to confine us to the limits of what they know about us and making us less complete, less human as a result. One was the issue of the personal preferences property management and guest information systems keep about us. On the one hand it’s definitely useful for a resort to keep information on our typical likes and dislikes so that we don’t have to keep on asking for the same things, such as feather pillows, on every visit.

On the other, just because I’ve been canoeing on every visit so far doesn’t mean that this is all I want to do on future visits, when there are dozens of alternative activities I might prefer instead. Don’t limit me to just what little you know about me from past behavior. If I’ve ordered a good cabernet with dinner on the last three occasions, I don’t necessarily want it with every meal in the future; it may just be that I like good wine, and next time will order a similar quality level of wine that goes with whatever I feel like eating that night. Keep an eye on the forest, not the trees.

Similarly, I’m disturbed by Google’s recent unilateral decision to filter your search results (unless you specifically disable the feature)to give priority to topics you’ve searched before. This can be useful if it returns more relevant results but it will also suppress information I might not have been specifically looking for but would find useful, interesting or both. I want my search engine to be completely impartial, not to feed me information it thinks is good for me. That’s what propaganda machines do.

This same trend is all too easy to fall into in our general lives. There’s so much information on the Internet and TV tailored to very specific viewpoints that it’s way too easy to restrict your viewing and listening to only those channels that support your singular mindset. But such an exclusionary approach is dangerously divisive; if I never hear your viewpoint, let alone find even a glimpse of how you came to your conclusions, how am I going to understand and get along with you? Of such narrow divisions are society’s walls built. I’m all in favor of unfettered freedom of speech, but I think it would be hugely valuable to introduce a random element somewhere that occasionally slips in an opposing viewpoint, just to get our minds working.

Walt Whitman put it succinctly, as always:
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

Let us be the complex, multi-faceted beings we really are. Stimulate our minds and experiences, don’t limit them; it’s the only way we can grow.

What’s your opinion? Am I worrying too much about this?

3 Responses to “Don’t fence me in; I’m more than what you know about me”

  1. Simon Says:

    “Similarly, I’m disturbed by Google’s recent unilateral decision to filter your search results (unless you specifically disable the feature)”

    Jon,

    I hadn’t heard of this – only the Buzz privacy fiasco. Where is the “disable button”.

    Simon

  2. Jon Says:

    You have to remove Web History from your account. If you’re signed in to Google when you search (as you might be if you’re using Gmail, Docs, Picasa, etc.) and have Web History enabled, which I believe is the default, Google customizes your search results based on prior history. At the top right of the Google home page, go to Settings | Account Settings and, if Web History shows up under My Products, click on the Edit link next to My Products and follow the instructions to delete Web History. HTH

  3. Sharon McA Says:

    I agree with you 1000 percent. Nowadays it seems much social interaction takes place online rather than in person. While the internet broadens our reach to a global (and even interplanetary) level, it also reduces our human experience. The most disturbing commercial I ever saw was two teen girlfriends, each sitting on the couch in their respective homes, going “shopping” together in a virtual “mall.” Get a life!

    Many evils in this world come from people with narrow viewpoints thinking their perspective is the only “right” perspective. I agree with you that “if I never hear your viewpoint, let alone find even a glimpse of how you came to your conclusions, how am I going to understand and get along with you?” The way this filter works, the narrowing of your viewpoint is seamless, almost transparent…which can be dangerous. Google, by all means offer us the ability to engage this filter, but please let us, by default, experience the myriad of detail that sparks true knowledge and true innovation.

    Sharon

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