Filter bubbles

Filter bubbles

Google, Facebook, Yahoo News, New York Times and many other services that provide web searches, filters or social networking are increasingly serving up search results that are in line with your existing opinions and values. There’s an invisible shift in how information flows online. Eli Pariser’s TED Talk and a Guardian article have brought this to my attention and the dangers behind this new phenomenon.

What is going on?

There’s an algorithmic editing that is being built into web searches and social networking feeds. Your clicks, internet behaviour and many other pieces of information about your online presence are collated in order to ‘provide you’ with a customized personalized feed. Two different people at two different locations searching the same terms in Google may get very different search results depending on their political persuasion, habits, outlook on life, hobbies etc.

There is no ‘standard Google’. We are all sitting in our personalized bubble of information that filters out unexpected pages and people that do not directly correspond to our internet consumption patterns. Our online ‘consumption’ is increasingly tailored to what companies think we want, which is not the same we may need as citizens, and here’s the terrible clash and ominous shift.

The Internet is becoming less a device for connecting you to the world and more a device to wrap you up in a predictable bubble that reflects back your own prejudices. This is worrying.

It’s worrying because being a citizen in a democracy means that we need to deliberate on shared issues and be exposed to opinion and information that doesn’t always agree with our already held beliefs. If it does, then we are increasingly blinkered and ignorant about opposing ideas and a diversity of views. The very foundations of liberal democracies rest on the idea that we deliberate, debate on shared issues and get exposed to each other’s views that may directly challenge each other. Without this no democratic deliberation can occur.

Sitting inside our customized filter bubble means you never even get to see what is edited out of your views! Invisibly these disappear.

There’s a struggle going on underneath, Periser says, between our future aspirational self and our present self. By showing you results that reflect your immediate choices your ‘aspirational choices’ do not get a chance to be seen by you! It’s like your bubble keeps serving up the ‘junk food’ of information that your evolutionary self might click on straight away and edit out the more complex or challenging choices that you may choose upon further reflection. This skews your choices to ‘junk’.

Google and others are now algorithmic gatekeepers that limit what we can be exposed to, except unlike editors of newspapers who were visible gatekeepers whose values you subscribed to, these gatekeepers are invisible and reinforce values that you aren’t consciously choosing. This will likely have deleterious effects we don’t want.

We need to see points of view that are uncomfortable, challenging and represent a range of values. This is essential for a functioning democracy. We need to be aware of the filter bubble and its potential to lull us into a reality that may suit corporations or us as consumers, but doesn’t suit democracy and us as citizens.

We need codes that include a sense of public life with its diverse and sometimes challenging values and our own civic responsibility that can only function well when it is continuously exposed to such a range of values. We also need transparency about the editing process and we need to get the agency back so everyone can decide for themselves whether to live in a filter bubble or not!

Guardian: How the net traps us all in our own little bubbles

3 more unique films at the festival…

3 more unique films at the festival…

Le Quattro Volte

This is one of the most amazing cinematic experiences I’ve had for a while! I so hope this is going to get released more widely, it is truly worth being seen by all.

The story takes place in a Calabrian village and it has some wonderfully small yet cosmic subjects: a goat herder, goats, vegetation, the elements… also existence, order, agency, connectivity, metaphysics.

Michelangelo Frammartino has created a magical meditative experience with no dialogue, and camerawork and direction that simply re-defines what it means to perceive!

The four elements are human, animal, plant and mineral and we follow each in their own language, logic and sense of being.

The film is slow and as you watch it re-focuses your attention, channeling it, coaxing it, engaging it with a more and more minimalistic focus.

This is pure philosophy and meditation on life and death and the nature of existence… poured into cinematographic form. A must for those who love to go way deeper, those who want to learn more about cinema and for those who want to expand their mind on possibilities in perception and thought.

Black & White & Sex

A wonderfully enticing film about sex work and sex in general. John Winter explores sex through a film-within-the-film structure. At the center is Angie, a sex worker, who is being interviewed about sex by a director/client. Angie is played by 8 actresses and as her story and answers unfold we realise that Angie stands for all sex workers and she is played by professional actresses.

She channels our gaze and our attention as we explore questions of who is paying for what, where the power lies and how, what sex workers do and so on… all the way challenging viewers’ preconceptions about sex and sex work, sometimes through subtle changes in emphasis, other times through a reversal of roles… a kind of Socratic method via black and white film about the subject that appears less and less black and white.

On top of this all the film maker plays with censorship through both what is and isn’t allowed to be part of the film and through explicit dialogue on the subject itself. Brilliant!

This was the world premiere of this film and there was a Q&A with the cast and producer (second photo here).

The smart and witty dialogue and crisp cinematography are guaranteed to float your boat and get you all hot and sweaty about the subject of sex… be prepared to be challenged in the most delicious way. This film deserves wide release and the subject matter is just about makes this inevitable.

And finally Surviving Life

Kooky Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer pulls another unique animated full feature on us. A middle aged man, Eugene, falls in love with a much younger woman in his dreams. His wife is suspicious and stalks him while he escapes to sleep more and more and engages a psychoanalyst to understand what is going on in his dreams! On the wall of the analyst Freud and Jung bicker over the unfolding dream interpretations!

Surreal and silly Czech humour is combined with a strongly Eastern European outlook on life. Stop-motion animation and collage cut-outs are mixed with close-up footage producing a jagged yet coherent animation technique that grows on you as you watch. Chicken headed women, giant clapping hands and such populate this wonderfully strange collage of a film.

The playful style brings together Monty Python like humour with Bunuel’s sense of absurdity. This is definitely a rare cult gem that will entertain a minority of viewers who love the taste of unique animation, serious silliness and absurd psychoanalytic thought mashed together.

SFF: Even the rain, Project Nim

SFF: Even the rain, Project Nim

Even the rain (Tambien la lluvia) was a wonderful multi-layered film taking place in Bolivia. A Spanish crew arrive there to make a revisionist film about Christopher Columbus arriving to Cochabamba, with some priests taking part in the exploitation and genocide of the native Taíno while other supposedly sympathize. As the film gets rolling the crew find themselves in the middle of unfolding local drama: native Bolivians are waging their campaign for fresh drinking water and the main character they cast in the film is leading the uprising. This beautifully reveals the colonialist remnants behind the shooting as the crew themselves exploit the local resources.

This is a truly engrossing, powerful and beautifully executed film by Icíar Bollaín. Highly recommended. 5/5

Project Nim is a documentary about a chimpanzee and a scientific project that was aimed to show that chimpanzees can acquire language. We follow Nim through a boisterous childhood in a family home where he is raised as one of the children, through language learning and to his eventual abandonment to a gradually worsening fate. James Marsh (Man on Wire) directs this film with amazing skill, letting the material speak for itself while also regularly prodding and provoking us. He uses interviews, reenactment and archival footage to bring the story to life.

Project Nim really probes into deeper philosophical and moral questions: are chimps, morally speaking, on the same level as humans? Do chimps become persons when raised with humans? When raised in the wild? What is our moral responsibility to a chimp raised in captivity for our own selfish purposes? Are humans and apes naturally loving, naturally violent or a mixture of both? We stay in the uncomfortable yet riveting grey area where viewers area always invited to make up their own mind and are never really allowed to sink into any black and white thinking. Many of the carers come out in less than flattering light and their interplay is amazing to watch. Fascinating, though provoking and riveting for every second of the film! Also 5/5!

SFF: My America

SFF: My America

Here goes my blogging on the Sydney Film Festival which is on 8-21 June 2011!! I’m seeing ten films this time, so expect quite a few posts on new films!

My America is a new film by Peter Hegedus who is a Hungarian Australian with family members in the US and a (now dead) grandfather who was the Hungarian prime minister in 1956 and who officially ordered the Russian tanks into the country to crush the people’s revolution. Hegedus uses all these materials in his new film to explore his idea of the American Dream as well as the story of what happened in the 2000s to the Cold War ideal of the US as a benevolent superpower through Iraq and beyond.

The film starts out as an absurd and funny personal story about American films and childhood dreams, only to make its way into the bigger darker questions about the US as a conflicted superpower and the effects of its foreign policy in Iran, Somalia, Hungary etc.

Spanning 4 continents it charms with its honesty and directness. Just don’t expect intellectual rigour in structure and delivery. Loved Hegedus arguing with his father, talking to policy analysts and even a psychiatrist. First I couldn’t see how his personal take would gel with the wider issues, but he managed to connect it all through an unpretentious documentary style in which he is both director and participant.

At times the exercise almost slides into farce as he’s relying on everyday people on the streets of Budapest, Tehran and Beijing to form a cohesive argument about the US, which is completely ludicrous as much as it is fascinating and random. Yet in the end it isn’t an empty tool: through this vox pop style we get to confront the effects of US foreign strategy on the individual lives of Somalis and Iranians, and we get to peer into the lives of disadvantaged Americans doing it tough through the economic crisis. The logical connections are loose but the stories and reflections real.

Strong if basic narrative holds the pace and intermittent animation glues the editing. No YouTube trailers just yet, though I believe the film is looking for wider distributors and is doing well on that front so you might get to see it at your local cinema in the next year or so.

3.5 / 5 starts from me.

Climate change… and Australian politics

Climate change… and Australian politics

Global carbon emissions have grown in 2010 despite the economic downturn. In fact it increased by a record amount and is close to a threshold limit that when reached before 2020 will most likely guarantee a more than 2C rise in global temperatures.

2C is the dangerous threshold for “potentially dangerous climate change”. What does this mean? Some of our worse case scenarios are going to come true.

“I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” Birol told the Guardian. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”

“Guardian: Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink”

The usual words are uttered and they are truer than ever: in order to avert disasters on a global scale we really need to act now.

Instead we are emitting more than ever. In Australia our political game is just about stalled. We have a Labor Government that is proposing a very minimal carbon tax in which most, including big polluting industries, may get compensation and yet, negotiations are stalling and who knows if the new carbon tax, even in a very watered down form, will ever get passed. In other words Australian politics is failing even at the most minimal level in bringing forth desperately needed action.

We are failing in a major way and I am convinced that subsequent generations will look back with disbelief and disgust. Our leaders who deny climate change and advocate for relentless economic growth will be looked at as people committing crimes against humanity.

Shockingly last week several climate scientists received a death threat in Sydney! I doubt that police will ever be able to persecute anyone for these yet no doubt they’ll terrorize scientists and perhaps make them want to get out of this increasingly risky and politicized area of research. Who would want this? The coal and oil industries, of course. They have billions of dollars at stake and are not content with just a massive PR campaign to discredit legitimate science and influence the politics of Western nations, they now also conspire to illegally threaten scientific activity which is the only tool we’ve got to find real objective answers.

I find this appalling and a real symptom of just how difficult the task ahead is… industry is way more powerful in many ways than any of our democratic processes and now those powerful interests are intimidating scientists. This is really dirty play. I wonder how on earth can we not be publicly appalled… how can all this NOT feed back into the politics of carbon in Australia, how can we not have a positive backlash to all this???