Monday, April 16, 2007

Spinning the Cocoon of Death

The following moment of doubt afflicted me recently and if it doesn't happen to you, you should be worried. I read a book that introduced me to the concept of an “information cocoon”.

I'ts a pretty self-explanatory term, actually. Due mostly to the Internet, we surround ourselves with information that harmonizes with our world. It is easy to do this on the Internet. We can customize our news feeds through Google, Yahoo, MSN and the countless other portals that offer to package the information we receive based on our interest, gender, location, consumer profiles and other variables. The latest buzz word that has flowed beyond cyberspace to infect everything is the prefix “my” to precede any other thing. In New York an evening news program advertises a billboard on the subway announcing how their brand of news is, rather: “my news, my weather, my world”.

But why isn't it “our” news, I ask? Can't I share my news with someone else? Oh, nevermind. This catchy individualistic phrase can certainly be attributed to the smashing success of MySpace and MySpace alone. But perhaps it is now a given that media must be customized in a way that greets me cheerily like a morning cup of coffee.

And that, folks, can't possibly be a good thing. I don't know about you, but I don't necessarily read to be entertained or comforted. Sometimes I read in order to expand my horizons and nuance and complicate my worldview. It was upon thinking about the very idea of an “information cocoon” that I immediatley panicked, wondering if I was firmly nestled into my own cocoon. Or to be exact.

I cried and cried.

I did't want to succumb to an insidious form of intellectual provincialism. Even if some of my sources of information didn't always come from a corporate news source-- no matter-- there would always be an easy spoonful of information ready to feed me.

Are you not guilty of this yourself? Who, after all, just randomly surfs the Internet these days? I follow leads – usually emails or MySpace bulletins with links sent by friends and trusted sources. When I google something, I am rarely going to check out the 15th page, but rather, I click on the first few search results, which based on Google's formula, means I am wallking down the most well-trodden path.

Then there are the information aggregators, sites like that display links to rightfully entertaining or usefel sites, frequented by many, and passed between friends. When I'm online and I want to suck some tasty screen but don't know where to go, I head to

If information is really being consumed this way, then this leaves me with lots of questions to ask.

    1) Is my cocoon hindering my intellectual progress, creating massive blindspots preventing me from ever hearing out the 14-year old Indonesian boy who has something genius to say?

  1. Is this really even a cocoon? Maybe its the opposite of a cocoon. Maybe I am utilizing technologies that aggregrate information drawn from a very wide net.

  2. Am I quickly just becoming a passive node that is receiving and transmitting information to the next person?

  3. And finally, is the Internet the best thing we've ever had to work with? Or does it harbor the delibitating connotations of a cocoon?

I would like to answer these questions by taking a step back from the “cocoon” metaphor. Might we view everything that is resonant and meaningful to an individual, as a product of that human spinning cocoons on a daily basis, not just on the Internet? There is a huge field of literature devoted to explaining the way humans filter out all kinds of sense data in their lives in order to create meaningful and coherent worlds for themselves. It's an instinct that we can't help if we want to be human.

As to the question of is it good/bad that we are filtering out many other worlds in the process of creating a world or two. Who am I to judge? I tend to put a high premium on cross-pollinating my learning experience. That is why I write a blog solely devoted to idea of dialogue, by the way.

All I can really say is that the more I attempt traverse geography, culture and class in my readings, the more unlikely it is that I will be lulled to sleep by a particular discourse. If you don't actively take steps to design your own world, which I'm sure is a fantastic one, by the way – a world will be afforded to you.

And by all means, don't forget to link your world to this blog.

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