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Can Tech Break Us Out of Our Bubbles?

We need more ways to find new movies, books and activities — especially those that challenge us.

The internet has created an abundance of information and entertainment, and it’s great.

But we don’t yet have perfect ways to find movies, books, music, information and activities that we might like — and especially those that push us out of our comfort zones.

Cracking the best ways to discover new things in our online abundance is a technology challenge — but also a human one. It requires us to want to expose ourselves to ideas and entertainment that don’t necessarily fit with our status quo.

I hope we can. It’s a way to make our lives fuller.

It’s amazing. But we can experience it only if we know it exists and feel compelled to seek it out. Enter the computers.

Online services like YouTube, Netflix and TikTok digest what you have already watched or its computer systems infer your tastes and then suggest more of the same. Websites like Facebook and Twitter expose you to what your friends like or to material that many other people already find engaging.

More ideas, more stuff to entertain us — and more potential ways to confirm what we already believe or to be steered by people who game the algorithm machines. This was a reality before the internet, but it’s amplified now.

Finding stuff that is different from what we usually like also requires us to be open to ideas, culture and diversions that challenge and surprise us. I wonder if most people have the willingness or time to do that.

In the sea of abundance online, I often fall back on the tried-and-true: wordof-mouth recommendations from people I know and from experts. When I’m looking for a new book, I ask bookworm friends or read professional reviewers.

I don’t think I trust the online crowds or algorithms, but I’m missing out. It feels as if the wonder is right at my fingertips, and I can’t quite reach it.

I described the fight over rules to enshrine this principle of net neutrality as “pointless,” and I get why people who have advocated net neutrality thought I was being glib.

It was a fair criticism. What I was trying to express was exhaustion. The current rounds of fights over net neutrality regulation go back to at least 2008. The protracted efforts on this have me pessimistic about the possibility of any new rules or restraints that could tame the downsides of our digital world.

My colleague Cecilia Kang and I also discussed net neutrality’s relative importance compared with other tech policies, including effective rules for online expression and the influence of technology superpowers.

I am also angry that Americans (and Canadians!) pay more for worse internet and cellphone service than people do in most other rich countries.

These are complex problems with no easy fix. But in my view, they are partly symptoms of America’s failures to set effective telecommunications policies and hold internet and phone providers accountable for their promises over many decades. And those companies deserve a large measure of blame for obfuscating the problems and fighting tooth and nail over any regulation.

Category: Technology

Source: New York Times

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