Technology these days is like air. We are surrounded by it, and often unaware of it. Do we consider how amazing it is? Recent images from the James Webb telescope have recorded other planets orbiting distant suns. DIY sites and videos can teach everything from how to cook an artichoke to sewing in a zipper. These activities create a staggering amount of money. Most of it (generally more than 70% depending on the company) comes from advertising. According to Forbes magazine, Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and others generate a total of 900 billion dollars in yearly revenue in goods, services and advertisements.
Pop-up Ads and Tracking
Pop-up ads for things similar to what you clicked on just days ago appear on a different site. That’s no coincidence. Tracking scripts, IP addresses, cookies and HTTP referrers report different aspects of our online use to the site we are using, and this information is shared with third parties. We are unaware of this most of the time. Gone are the days of advertising with no knowledge of what we like. The information about us that sites gather allows for targeted ads or suggestions for articles to read. The more we click, the more sites get a picture of what we like and where we go. Your information is out there to be used, sold and even stolen.
But this is not what I consider the real power of the Internet. Its power lies in our ability to connect, learn and create. These suggestions that return to us from our use creates a subtle changing of our online environment. We can’t change what we don’t notice, and that is what seems to be happening.
As tracking tools become more precise and sites give us more of what we choose, we find ourselves in a virtual hall of mirrors- called “filter bubbles.” We are subject to these reflections of our online use, mirrored back at us in order to make money. The truly disturbing fact is that as humans this personalized version of cyberspace is more psychologically comfortable than reality. We have the power to change this. Instead of clicking on the same news sites, go somewhere else, or use a library database to see various news sources. Don’t click those alluring headlines. Open a new tab and search what the article is about- see a variety of results. If in doubt, head to https://www.snopes.com/ – a website dedicated to debunking these stories.
Headlines are Designed to Provoke Emotion
Lurid headlines are written to create strong emotions. The natural consequence of this is a growing concern about a problem or cause. This can foster divisiveness, lack of critical thinking, and responses to differing opinions that are anything but courteous. Instead of solving problems, we waste time arguing about who is right and who is “other.”
Several factors feed this hydra- There is the attitude that every voice is important and must be heard. Everyone is talking, but few are listening. The speed and ease of posts and replies can make for comments posted in the emotional moment. The anonymity of screen names and avatars shield us from our fellow man. In an online world where so much is known about us, we can hide from seeing a person’s face or physical reaction when we insult them.
At Digital Respons-ability. We are trying to make aware of the pitfalls and benefits of what should be the world’s most amazing tool for knowledge and good. We teach children to be responsible users and critical thinkers.
What can we as adults do about this growing surge in targeted advertising, collection of personal information and misleading news? Think before you click. Find science-based resources to help you understand, manage, and teach media use in your home.