Are we designing bubbles that design bubbles and thereon, imprisoning people into what they think they want and know, is design responsible for the lack of openness to listen, learn, discuss and relate to other news, tunes than our own?
Two years ago, in the last stretch of our Presidential campaign, I received a link to an app that would tell you the origin and size of your news sources, if it was blue or red. I know myself enough to know where I tend to look for news, and I am also aware that this is a great way for this app to, with my permission, gather info on my news sources and link with other details to create data profiles. Fair enough, but they were going to tell me something I knew but needed some sort of proof. I was shocked, one of my bubbles was really dominant, crazy big compared to the other, just really unbalanced for a guy who actually thought he was, maybe, not that skewed. So, I did something about it, or so I thought. I actually looked around for sources that were more connected to the other bubble, I signed on a bunch of them, I subscribed and liked sources I would otherwise never look for or even just accept as sources of news, information, knowledge. I started receiving all kinds of crap… Oh, pardon me, of news and information that I read and could not really believe, engage, trust, follow, stop laughing at. But I tried to hold on stoically and didn’t kill any of them, nevertheless in 3 months I looked again at my trusted sources, the ones I went to most often, the ones I followed and liked, and they were, again, the vast majority aligned with my dominant bubble.
I am one of those guys that pays for Apple Music. Yes, I know, a guy who has in his basement his 80’s vinyl collection and his 90’s CD’s, and on iTunes everything else digital since then. But I want a curated service that gives me what I like listening to, on my smart gadgets, anywhere and any time, in a nicely and aesthetically organized fashion, I want a musical twin that knows my preferences, my mood, my whims. And I got it, sort of. It does know what I typically choose, on a daily basis, and it manages between jazz, French pop, 90’s rock and minimal, it shows effortlesly on the same page Miles Davis, Daft Punk, Foo Fighters and Michael Nyman. It does have a New Music Mix, and a ’since you listened to…’, and New Releases. But I look at my music offering and it’s all in the same bubble, I don’t even know how to describe it, kinda mixed up sort of eclectic trans generational hipster or whatever you want to call it, but it’s all sort of the same. And it’s not entirely their fault, I go to the Browse section and do see a large number of artists I never heard of, the playlists are just fancy graphics grouping things that are repeated playlist after playlist, the hot tracks seem too pop and mainstream, the New Releases are all over the place and I tend to look for the artists I know.
I did this. In both cases I used tools at my disposal to customize, personalize, sanitize and limit my sources, my news, my music, my knowledge, my learning. Above all, I have designed a bubble that in many ways keeps designing all the other bubbles captured within, and I did something which I know is bad for me, I have stopped exercising my curiosity, my ‘discomfort muscles’ and created this nice and cozy place where I know more or less what to find, where the unknown is prescribed, the new is recycled and the different is just the B side of the same album. Are we, as designers, giving people much needed choices that are not their own, inspiring their curiosity, channeling them to experiment, taking them on journeys, poking them, even confusing them with a purpose. This is not what anyone would say or define as a desired state, to land on their favorite page one day and see everything the opposite of what he/she customized, to have a button with ‘try me’ that would take them to a genre they detest, to have the list of ‘what your neighbor is reading’ just to reinforce you don’t know them (or perhaps you do…), to have a ‘all the guys your age are listening to the same, I thought you said you were unique!’ banner, even a paid service of ‘ we will make you uncomfortable, take you on a journey of discovery like never before, don’t worry, you’ll enjoy it…’. Are we designing bubbles that design bubbles and thereon, imprisoning people into what they think they want and know, is design responsible for the lack of openness to listen, learn, discuss and relate to other news, tunes than our own?