Check your bubble

bubbles

Scientists sit in the ivory tower. Normal people live in the real world. Well, not anymore. Nowadays, scientists sit in huge underground vaults housing large hadron colliders, author articles with 3,500 authors, calculate their Hirsch-factor. And normal people live in bubbles.

Check out Vincent F. Hendricks on theconversation.com. The guy’s so brilliant I agree with him. And there’s something special about him: Vincent F Hendricks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this (=his) article, and has no relevant affiliations. Remarkable. Why is he writing, then? He’s promoting this book. But that’s okay.

Back to content. Hendricks speculates that there’s so much content out there that everyone is in danger of becoming trapped in a personal bubble (okay, simplifying a bit here, but not much). Hendricks:

Filter bubbles, for example, happen when the information we receive online becomes so tailored to our existing areas of interest that we are no longer exposed to views that challenge us. If we only follow like-minded people on Twitter, we start to live in a bubble in which counter-opinions don’t feature.

Of course, that’s not the way how it looks like to you in the bubble. In the bubble, you see a lot of counter-opinions. But they either differ only mildly from your opinion. Or clearly are the opinions of complete idiots who… just… didn’t… get… IT.

You’re surrounded by friends united in bashing the idiots.

And so is everyone else.

Nice.

Creating a self-sustaining bubble is the first rule of successful propaganda. Sometimes whole countries are gigantic filter bubbles.

Oh no, here’s a disturbing thought. Vincent Hendricks is the Jimi Hendrix of social media criticism (= Jimi Hendrix was some guitar player back in the 60ies; #badjoke). What if our everyday lives are not necessarily becoming more scientific and rational, more in touch with ‘reality’, more enlightened, due to social media? What if the brave new social media world offers unprecedented opportunity to capture people… in bubbles? Not forever, of course. Only long enough to fleece them. The GFC 2008/2009, just the beginning? Hendricks:

Across spheres, from science to your wardrobe, bubbles share similar structures and dynamics. The term “bubble” is no longer confined to just financial movements. In the information age, it can refer to irrational, collective, aggregated behaviour, beliefs, opinions or preferences based on social proof in all parts of society.

“Social proof” is the word here. Social proof is how you’re fleeced. Millions of flies can be wrong. Shit may not be good for you. Hendricks goes on:

Over in finance, informational cascades have become a major factor in the generation of bubbles, where, as economist Harold Vogel notes, “individuals choose to ignore or downplay their private information and instead jump the bandwagon by mimicking the actions of individuals acting previously”. If you think about your own actions every day, you might uncover some uncomfortable truths about the bubbles you live in.

This behaviour is called “the game of greater fools”, by the way. Tulip Mania, 1637. Look it up and impress people at cocktail parties.

Moral I: The habit to actively seek out alternative explanations for data, even if they contradict your pet theory, jar with your expectations or do not fit smoothly with everyone’s politically correct opinion, GOD BEWARE! is one of the great achievements of human history. It’s one of the pillars of science.

Moral II: Check your bubble.

Moral III: Don’t overdo it. There are idiots out there. People are not necessarily right because they’re alone with their opinion.

P.S.: Higgs Bosons don’t lie.

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