Monday, May 16, 2016


Most of us have no idea what the word curating means so I looked it up and found the following definition: to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content: “We curate our merchandise with a sharp eye for trending fashion,” the store manager explained.

It’s the kind of thing Amazon does with targeted advertising when they track your shopping history to send you ads related to the kinds of products you have either bought in the past or looked at on their site. I’ve noticed recently that my Google searches are starting to show ads for more things that I have shopped for as well.  For most people that’s a good thing. If I was searching for extra wide shoes (I wear a 4E width and those are very hard to find in my local stores) I will see ads for wide shoes when I make my next search on Google. Even if I’m now searching for hardware for my vintage trailer, those shoe ads will continue until I do enough searches for some other item.

There is a movement to do the same thing with your news feeds. The concept is that if you read articles about the latest presidential candidates then you'd like to read more articles about them. That actually sounds like a pretty good service, right? The scary part is that if you begin to focus on just one candidate that same system may focus its future recommendations on that one candidate as well. This naturally narrows your reading to what your “curation” software is spoon-feeding you. It's kind of like limiting your social interactions to just the people you know.

This kind of curation is different from a television news show. The new show has a large and varied audience that has equally varied tastes, so it presents a collection of unrelated news stories. Some of them are very interesting to you while others not so much, BUT if you watch the whole half hour report you get a range of information about a variety of subjects. In other words a well rounded view of what is happening. If on the other hand you only listen to a news station that reports on a narrow range of topics from a single view point you don’t’ get fresh ideas.  Most of us know that guy at the gym or office that only listens to the extreme political talk show; whose entire world is bounded by a single view. The one who is always talking conspiracy theories and never accepts that sometimes it’s not a conspiracy it’s just a coincidence?

I currently use a news aggregator that requires me to manually add new feeds and doesn’t look at what I am currently reading and make recommendations about similar sources. I like it that way because I prefer an eclectic collection of sources so I get a broad range of subjects and viewpoints.  I know people who look at a number of different sources: newspapers, radio, internet websites, and even al jazeera america. 

Dudley Field Malone was co-counsel for the defense of John T. Scopes in the famous "Monkey Trial". In response to William Jennings Bryan's argument against admitting scientific testimony, Malone gave arguably the best speech of the trial in defense of academic freedom. "I have never learned anything from any man who agreed with me," was one of his famous quotes.  In exactly the same way your world of ideas can be circumscribed and limited by software that tries to show you more information that supports or is like what you are already reading. Fresh and new ideas that challenge your existing concepts and accepted wisdom are the food of intellectual thought.
Yes, after you read an opposing viewpoint you may well decide that you were right the first time. Unless you continually challenge what you think you know how you can grow and learn.

Sitting in a classroom being presented with new facts or viewpoints, all of us have experienced the awakening that new information gives us. That moment when we think “Oh, if that’s true then this is true too! I never thought about it like that before.”

If you accept the software driven news aggregators you may well find your intellectual boundaries becoming smaller and more homogenous with little new or thought provoking ideas.

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