I’m back in class, which means I get to read all sorts of interesting articles and reports. This fall I am taking “Digital Writing in the Classroom” and we’re starting out with a hard look at how technology has or has not changed writing.

Our first text was excerpts from Jay David Bolter’s Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. My classmate, Sherry Brown, nicely points out that Bolter is misusing the word “remediation“, or at best redefining it to mean:

a newer medium takes the place of an older one, borrowing and reorganizing the characteristics of writing in the older medium and reforming its cultural space.

What caught me, though, was a passage that was not even central to his argument:

Critics accuse the computer of promoting homogeneity in our society, of producing uniformity through automation, but electronic reading and writing seem to have had just the opposite effect.

He is arguing that while books tend to be bound (literally) around a given idea and perspective, technology unbinds information and thus offers a greater opportunity to explore different perspectives.

While I cannot take issue that such an opportunity exists, I doubt that it is happening much. Indeed a 2009 study found that people tend to avoid information that contradicts what they already believe. The more personal the belief (i.e. political or religious), the less likely people are to seek out alternate viewpoints. There are times when people do seek out opposing viewpoints, such as politicians who will have to defend their view, but 67% of the time an average person will stick to his or her point of view.

Now technology is actually making it harder for us to seek out opposing viewpoints. In his TED talk, Eli Pariser explains “filter bubbles” wherein search engines like Google filter out what they think doesn’t interest us. This is great when we are looking up local movie times, but less so when we are researching an issue.

As a librarian I feel it’s my job to help students to understand these filters — both within us and without us — and to teach them how to find information representing a variety of viewpoints (and, for that matter, facts vs. opinions). It’s getting harder and harder to do each day. And, if I am being perfectly honest, I am as guilty as the next person. While I try to see all sides of an issue, I definitely find myself lingering at sites that share my views. Jezebel tops my list of sites visited, but I don’t think I’ve ever visited a site by or for conservative women.


The Truth is Out There . . . But We’re Not Looking For It
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3 thoughts on “The Truth is Out There . . . But We’re Not Looking For It

  • September 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Megan, so aptly put. The 67% statistic is so disheartening, especially to an educator. I also find myself attracted to like-minded sites, which I may try to break myself out of the habit. Maybe then my “filter bubble” will be more of a “filter blimp.”

  • September 11, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Both John Dewey and William James long ago came to the conclusion represented in the 2009 survey your reference. Essentially, that when confronted with new information people will try adjust or change in the least degree required to accommodate the new information. James (1907) says in part, a person “saves as much of [his previous mass of opinions] as he can, for in this matter of belief we are all extreme conservatives. so he tries to change first this opinion, and then that, until at last some new idea comes up which he can graft upon the ancient stock with a minimum of disturbance of the latter, some idea that mediates between the stock and the new experience and runs them into one another most felicitously and expediently.” I find James word choice interesting in light of the discussion of Bolter’s use of “remediation.”

  • September 12, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Ken, I remember learning about what James was saying in Psych class, so I suppose this searching behavior does make sense. I wonder, though, if there is a difference in terms of response to new information vs. information seeking? Perhaps the problem of the internet is that when confronted with new information, rather than working through one’s opinions, we can just jump on the internet and find someone to “disprove” the new information with “facts” to support our initial ideas. In this case, there would be no grafting.

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