Critical Context Paper
The use of algorithms and metadata by the internet’s technological systems tend to create ‘Filter Bubbles’ in which the user find themselves aiding in the development of psychological obesity. An endless cycle of interacting with these technologies encourages the consumption of information that is not necessarily beneficial for the user, influencing their behaviour and effecting the way they make decisions. We are confined in a space of information with an invisible barrier restricting us from diverse thoughts, an action that if continued unabated, will change the future of our democracy.
How can I extend the metaphor of the bubble to explore the effect and consequences the Filter Bubble is having on society?”

Introduction
Born in the age of technology, where the internet is a key component in our daily lives, we neglect to see how our constant interactions with our devices can be changing the way we see the world around us.
    This critical context paper aims to do three things; inform, expose and encourage. Inform us of the internet’s influence on our behaviours, expose political involvement with data usage for manipulation and encourage civil discussion’s away from our devices.
To become familiar with something we must first create an experience, we can address a complex topic by encouraging imagination. Chapter 1 begin’s with a memory of creating bubbles. The descriptive experience becomes a metaphor for a more theoretical and figurative bubble, the filter bubble. This chapter further explores how filter bubble’s effect the information we consume and how that influences our choices.
    The internet has accommodated many people as a space to spread information. In the last couple of years there has been an increase in political involvement on this platform to engage in aspects of our democracy. Chapter 2 looks at filter bubble through the lens of politics and introduces us to Cambridge Analytica, a company that uses meta data analysis for political campaigns. This chapter will explore how filter bubble’s changing the future of democracy.
    With the knowledge of the internet’s influence on our choices and how it is affecting democracy, chapter 3 will explore ways we can help this issue. This chapter will look at alternative platforms that don’t offer such a filtered experience when seeking information and encourage discussions away from technology.
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Chapter 1: Bubble 101
Online Bubble
Just like the physical bubbles we make at home, there are also  online bubbles we create too. Personalisation on the internet began as a Google Labs Project beta test in March 2004 and later was made available to all users of Google search in December 2009. This personalised online experience has evolved dramatically over the past 14 years, almost all search engines today provide us with a tailored search and there are social applications available on all devices that personalise our social lives too.
     The term ‘filter bubble’ was introduced by Eli Pariser in 2011 in his TED talk and through a published book. The filter bubble, is the personalisation of a user’s online experience through the use of algorithms. Data is created through a user’s interaction with the internet, algorithms then use this data to filter the information the user encounters so that everything online the user access, is tailored to their personal preferences. Pariser describes these systems as ‘prediction engines, constantly creating and refining a theory of who you are and what you'll do and want next’  they work in a ‘give and take’ way, the more information we give—the more these systems think they know us and the more personalised the information they provide us can be.
These online bubbles are created with only three components; the user, the internet and the algorithm. We as the user are constantly producing data online with everything we search, purchase and ‘like’. The most common way data is collected is through cookies. Almost all web pages we access contain cookies, these cookies act as a memory bank that keeps learning information about us and distributing this information to other web pages. They are sent back and forth between the browser and server, to personalise each new web page you open.
    Algorithms are systems behind our devices that filter our experiences. They link our emotions to our actions online. When we like something we see on our screens we interact with them by clicking on them, ‘liking’ them or re-posting them. It’s through these actions that algorithms provide us with information similar to the ones we like. The things online that we dislike we usually swipe or ignore and algorithms either remove these posts or articles from our searches and feeds or provide us with posts that share the same opinion as us.
The internet is a platform that constantly consume, produce and distribute information for its users and these algorithms are systems that tailor the experience. These systems ‘create a unique universe of information for each of us’  that become our online profile that other users on the web can see.
    These bubbles are a cycle of thoughts, research and feed of web information. Just like the physical bubble, the more data we produce from the internet, the more the internet thinks it knows us and the more consumed we become in this online restricted space.
Who’s Choice?
Just as Peter Sloterdijk described ‘my thoughts are invisible for others’  and ‘my ideas and knowledge belong exclusively to me, transparent for myself and impenetrable for others’  but this doesn't apply when we are online. The intimate action of being online is no longer something we do on our own, the information we produce online is shared between us and the internet. Our interaction with our technology is a relationship between the person we are in real life and the person we are online. We are constantly feeding information about us subconsciously through the different things we do on the internet, and these algorithms use this information to create an ‘online version’ of ourselves that effect our behaviours in real life. The filter bubble is invisible, and because of its lack of physical appearance we neglect to acknowledge its involvement with our day to day lives.
    When we begin our online experience and start providing our data to these systems—we are in control. It is through these initial choices that we begin to plant the roots to our future choices. The more information we provide these systems and the more we interact with these posts, the more we lose control of our choices. Our devices begin to take control, not only of what we see behind our screens but the way we react to what we see too.
    Our addiction to our devices is influencing our behaviours. As we constantly consume personalised information through online platforms we are also constantly rejecting alternative information that is available elsewhere.  The information we see online go through a filtering system to provide only posts we like, ‘personalisation filters serve up a kind of invisible auto-propaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desire for things that are familiar and leaving us oblivious to the dangers lurking in the dark territory of the unknown’ if we do not see anything, we have no knowledge of it, that knowledge is removed from us through these filters.
     Jaron Lanier, describes us users as ‘lab animals’ because of the way we are constantly being ‘tracked’ and ‘hypnotised’ by these online systems. ‘The problem is relentless, robotic, ultimately meaningless behaviour modification in the service of unseen manipulators and uncaring algorithms,’   When we constantly consume personalised information we dig ourselves a hole where the only beliefs and opinions we are surrounded by are our own. We become so involved with this one way of thinking because the information available to us has already been chosen by ‘technicians we can't see’. Our future choices depend on the initial choices we’ve made in the past and more importantly the choices we make today.
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Chapter 2: The Bubble and Politics
In the lens of Politics
The technological generation; a generation that was born in to the world of technology, learned alongside devices and grew up during the evolution of the internet. ‘Young people have shifted sharply-and maybe permanently-from political events as defining; they think of themselves increasingly as part and parcel of the latest, most trendy, most powerful technological devices’, it is through stepping into the social atmosphere on the internet that politics has remained relevant to a generation growing with their devices. This generation is slowly becoming the hands of our future and if there is ever a time to inform them of political policies, the time is now.
    The internet has become a place for billions of people to connect with each other without being physically near one another, a place to communicate, advertise and inform. This platform makes the things impossible in real life, possible online. The internet is accessible by over 51% of the world’s population, which means over half the people on earth are able to see what’s on the web. The internet allows people to distribute news to a large crowd, quickly and sufficiently. Almost everywhere we look, someone is carrying a smartphone device that holds applications that keep them informed of what is happening around the world. With these devices available to people all over the world, someone could have an idea one minute, post it online, and someone on the complete other side of the world will be able to see it and share it. This platform has become an efficient way to spread democracy and the internet has become a valuable tool for politicians all over the world.
    Traditionally, democracy is the control of a group of people chosen by the majority of its members. There are usually two or more available representatives to choose from that depict different opinions. Democracy can only be achieved where more than one option is available for comparison. The filter bubble only achieves for us to see one side. They filter the information each of us receive so that we are only linked with information that share our own opinions. When we ‘like’, ‘re-post’ or search information about a particular party, because of this personalised online experience the information we encounter will only reflect our own beliefs. If we dislike something the information we receive is altered to support this. When the information we receive follows the way we think, we neglect to understand alternative ideas and opinions of others. This personalised system is no longer bringing us together but dividing us. If the information we receive from the internet is a constant loop of what we think, it strengthens our own thoughts, and we assume what we think is ‘right’. When we don’t have knowledge of all sides of an argument, being ‘right’ with the knowledge we do have can separate us. We no longer approach information with a non-biased eye, instead we reinforce the information we already know.
    Filter bubbles create online profiles, and these profiles make it easier to categorise an audience. Companies have used these algorithms to advertise product to their customers, this has been achievable through analysing a user’s preference and behaviour towards particular styles of advertising. ‘An unfortunate fact is that you can train someone using behaviourist techniques, and the person doesn't even know it,’  These invisible algorithms are able to manipulate our behaviours through carefully analysing our interactions with these internet technologies. ‘The problem is in part that we are all carrying around devices that are suitable for mass behaviour modification,’  we have become so dependant on our devices as our primary source of information, that its effect on our behaviours is so subtle. This process has been used to assist political campaigns, and with such a system in place, targeted advertising is becoming more popular with politicians all over the world.
    
Cambridge Analytica
The internet is a platform that is constantly collecting data from its users. There is so much data being produced every minute online that is accessible to higher authorities. Companies actively use data analysis to manipulate its users, whether it be to sell a product or to persuade an idea.
    Cambridge Analytica is a company who has had recent involvement with data usage to influence a user’s behaviour. They are a team of data scientists, PhD researchers, psychologists, and digital marketing experts that use ‘data-analytics, behavioural sciences and innovative ad-tech’ to appeal to a particular audience. The company includes well-experienced data analytics that thoroughly explore and analyse data to help commercial and political campaigns.
    Their political campaigns assisted in the victory of electoral candidates through effectively using data and the analysis of behaviours to direct an audience in a particular way. They create unique profiles that speak directly to customers making their approach personalised for you. The team uses audience segmentation to group the most persuadable individuals and use targeted advertising to reach them in a way they are most likely to respond to. They use the combination of data, psychology and advertising to target a specific audience, create a ‘right’ message and distribute that message to the ‘right’ person.
    In 2016 CA Political were involved in several political campaigns, including Ted Cruz and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as well as the Brexit referendum. They contributed in designing adverts that assist a particular side of an argument in a way that will appeal to its user.
Our position, in the Bubble
The internet is infectious. We are subconsciously creating profiles of ourselves online, through the things we search, the things we purchase, and the things we acknowledge on social media apps. These algorithms are used to personalise our online experience, but this system produces information that is for us, through assumption.
    The internet has become a platform for campaigners to persuade people for political votes. It has become a space for data-analytics to invade and manipulate. Filter bubbles are used to categorise an audience according to similarities in interests and the data and algorithms produced are used to create unique profiles for direct advertising.
    A generation obsessed with their devices, this is the generation who will eventually be in full control of our political future. We trust our devices to provide us with the information we think we need but the information it gives us is only one-sided— our political future is being determined through a divided public because of the influence of these platforms.
    The internet is becoming our biggest influence, it influences our thoughts and our decisions. It has and will continue to affect the future of democracy. The internet may pose as a platform for us to freely explore what we will— but the path has already been made for us, just as Lanier said ’There’s no such thing as perfectly free will.’
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Chapter 3: Bursting the Bubble
Psychological Obesity
Being trapped in a filter bubble will restrict the way we think and the information we read online will constantly be one-minded. Just by making one choice we cancel out all the other choices available to us and this narrows down the potential paths we can take online. We assume filter bubbles are keeping us together by suggesting like-minded information with us, but instead it is dividing the population by restricting us from seeing or hearing different opinions and information produced by people unlike ourselves.
    ‘Ultimately, the filter bubble can affect your ability to choose how you want to live.’ These invisible algorithms are influencing our behaviours and affecting the way we make decisions—which in a long term can have serious effects on our political future. Democracy is down to an individual’s opinion on a system of government, there is a process in which an individual should be able to research, learn and discuss about the different systems of government without being manipulated through algorithms online. Democracy, is exploring all arguments of an issue and choosing one that we feel is the best action for it. Filter bubbles restrict us from freely exploring these arguments online. If we only come across similar opinions as our own, we won’t able to have debates about an issue because there isn’t an alternative opinion to compare to. It is preventing users from seeing alternative perspectives by only showing them information they ‘like’ and hiding information they ‘don’t like’.
    We are becoming so addicted to internet technology that one of the strongest physical relationships we have, is between ourselves and our devices. The invention of smartphones has made it easier to stay connected to the internet and we have become dependent on them to answer our daily queries. If we continue to feed these online data banks with information about us, algorithms will continue to have control of the information we receive before we encounter it. Just as Pariser describes, ’You can get stuck in a static, ever narrowing version of yourself’. If we continue to rely on these technologies, the information the internet is giving us may not necessarily be beneficial for us and can prevent us from expanding our knowledge of important issues of today.
    
These subconscious bubbles we have created for ourselves is changing the way we browse information. The effect of filter bubbles on our lives is ‘subtle, but cumulative’, we are creating these bubbles through the small choices we make online, but it’s through these choices that we’re handing over our control to algorithms behind our screens. Our devices are influencing us in ways we can’t see, and the most dangerous modifications are the ones that are not physically visible, because we don’t notice them.
    We’ve established what filter bubbles are, how they have an effect on our behaviours and choices and how that influences democracy and the future of our politics. Creating the bubble is the easy part, once you are consumed in the bubble—it's trying to get out of it that is difficult. We as individuals need to be more aware of our online presence and how the things we search, click, and double tap online can affect our decision-making in the future. The two main issues we need to resolve are; one, our addiction to our devices and two, the quantity and type of data we keep on them. We have become so involved and consumed in our online bubbles of information that in order for us to break these barriers and access more diverse information, we need to adjust both our online and offline presence.

Online presence
Turn it all off. Delete your search history. Turn your location services off. Delete your cookies. Stay anonymous. Don’t enter your birthday on Facebook. Turn it all off.
    Algorithms are created through even the little things we lack to acknowledge. It can be as small as the type of search engine you use, to the way you phrase what you are looking for. Computers see numbers and patterns. ‘The algorithms don't really understand you, but there is power in numbers, especially in large numbers.’ If we visit a particular web page several times or like articles written by a particular author or journalists, algorithms will see the high number of interactions, and provide you with a feed with filtered information because they assume it will make your browsing easier. Technology pays attention to what you do, but also notes how many times you do it.
    These numbers are collected through our web histories, through the cookies we accept on web-pages, through our location services on our devices and through our auto-fills for online forms. Now that we are more aware of the type of data there is and how they can be stored, we can take back control of them by creating new habits. By regularly deleting unnecessary web interaction, we can prevent the accumulation of data.
Social media is the most common way of gathering personal data. These social applications, run on metric systems that attach numbers to your activities. These applications are addictive, so the number is constantly increasing. When we interact with something so often, it can have a huge effect on the way we think and behave. The algorithms on these applications are constantly on rotation of receiving and providing information from us to us.
    Permanently deleting or temporarily de-activating your social media will help make a better you. We are so tethered to these devices, we wake up—we open an app, we go to the toilet—we open an app, we eat—we open an app and before we go to sleep—we open an app. We are so desperately attached to our smartphones and tablets we neglect the real world and things happening around us because we are too concerned with what’s on the screen. Ironically, social media can prevent us from being social in real life.
Offline presence
The more we are on our smartphones, laptops and tablets, the less we are with each other. Be present, in real life. Go out and have conversations with people you wouldn’t usually have conversations with. You won’t always be right—be OK with it. The internet isn’t the only source for learning, having discussions with other people face to face can be richer way of gaining knowledge. Understand that there are different opinions and views on different subjects. A person’s culture, up-bringing, age, sex and religion will contribute to the way they think. Do not rely on what you see online. Be present, without an online presence. Be open minded to the thoughts and responses of others, read books, discuss, debate and repeat. Conversations are an authentic way to learn.
    Even away from the screens, there is filtered information everywhere. The internet, however is a very addictive space, and the constant exchange of information makes this platform an easier place to be controlled. If we step away from it once in a while, it can give us new opportunities of finding information. The most effective way to escape filter bubbles, is to not rely so much on these internet technologies to provide you information—and to seek information through the diversity of other people and their knowledge and opinions.

Conclusion
What we learn stems from experience. A bubble is a creation on its own, it takes form of a solid made from a liquid. It is visible, yet invisible at the same time. It can begin on its own as a single bubble, but can increase in volume and multiply to create foam.  A bubble has qualities that can be adapted to the complexity of the internet. Information is produced through devices. We see through our screens but we cannot see data and algorithms. Our internet experience begins with us being in control, but we end up being consumed in an online bubble filled with tailored information.
The internet is affecting the future of democracy.
We as a generation are so tethered to our devices, we’ve become so dependent on the internet to help us in our everyday lives, that without them we seem hopeless. Our devices have become a natural part of us, that the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night we do is check our devices.
    Today, smartphones have the ability to carry almost every possible data to identify a human. They scan finger prints and has facial recognition. It has bank details and location services. It keeps information of your home, work and doctors. These technologies know the names of your family members and friends. It knows where you like to shop and the food you eat. It knows what you like and dislike. Smartphones are you in a form of a device.
    These devices have become so advance that algorithms can suggest what you are thinking before you think it. The internet uses all this data that an individual voluntarily uploads to control a person’s thoughts. As we lose the ability to think for ourselves, a path is already being made for us, a journey is already being put in place for us to take. Decisions are being made for us. Inside this bubble we are re-cycling information, constantly feeding on the same thought over and over again. On the outside of the bubble are different opinions, different points of views, an alternative world of information we have not been able to see. We need to poke a hole in this bubble so we can have the opportunity to approach new views and ideas, unlike our own.
Bursting these bubbles is not impossible. We can achieve a healthier online experience by making small changes in our daily lives. The internet is an amazing asset to our generation, it is a practical tool that teaches us and keeps us informed. We must not fall in the trap of its control. It is not a suggestion to exit the internet completely but to frequently distance ourselves from the intimate relationship we keep with the web. Our generation is the generation that can make a difference for our future and the decisions we make today will affect what comes ahead. Don’t leave that decision to a computer. Take back your minds and don’t rely on your devices to educate yourselves.
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