By Audrey Tan
We live in a new age of media. It’s all around us at any given time. The latest Instagram Reels are playing on our smartphones, advertising dominates cityscapes everywhere, and the TV constantly blares out one sensationalist topic after the other. During the past few decades, the media has genuinely become omnipresent.
Since the inception of television and following its explosion of popularity in the 1940s, there have been plenty of discussions surrounding its effects on children’s cognitive development. To this day, the topic continues to divide the opinions of parents, social scientists, and policymakers worldwide, who are now worried about TV and all the other new media available to us.
Naturally, the media we consume has a profound effect on us. It shapes how we perceive the world; it can inspire and motivate us or drive us into melancholy and sorrow. It affects our thinking and our feelings and even has the power to influence our political affiliations and the way we act around others.
Studies conducted in America found that exposure to Fox News could increase Republican Party vote shares significantly. At the same time, exposure to MSNBC also slightly increased the Democratic Party’s voting share. This is not accidental, as the executives at these companies usually have deep connections to either party. Topics are covered to make one look better than another, facts are omitted, and half-truths are told, furthering the narrative convenient to the ones telling it.
With the boom of alternative media sources, you would think that nowadays, people would not fall into such binary thinking. After all, we are living in the information age, right? Surely we are exposed to a fair share of content from both sides of any given argument, right?
The Information Or Content Bubble
Well, not quite. We are all caught in our own little filter bubbles, even on the internet, a platform designed to revolutionise information exchange. The liberal bubble, the alt-right bubble, the cooking bubble, the IT bubble, any topic you can think of has its own little bubble, entirely controlled by algorithms and artificial intelligence. You can try bursting out of it occasionally. Still, in the end, the algorithm determines what you see and hear at any given time. To quote American business magnate Bill Gates:
(Technology such as social media) “lets you go off with like-minded people, so you’re not mixing and sharing and understanding other points of view … It’s super important. It’s turned out to be more of a problem than I, or many others, would have expected.”
This severely influences how we perceive the world. If you’re stuck in your liberal bubble, you might be under the impression that there is hardly any rightist movement in your country. You may think that most people agree with you and that everything is fine. But so do the people in the alt-right bubble. In the end, we are all being isolated and deceived.
This filter bubble effect actually makes us more susceptive to propaganda than previously thought possible. After all, why would our bubble lie to us? They are like-minded people who only want the best, just like you and me. But this attitude only makes it easier for us to fall into cognitive traps.
After the last US election, there is an entire subsection of people who genuinely believe that Joe Biden stole the election from Donald J. Trump. And another subsection that genuinely believes Trump will lead the next American revolution. To us in our progressive bubbles, this seems absolutely insane. But to those believers, this is their daily reality, presented to them on their laptops and phone screens, delivered by the algorithms.
Outside voices that disprove this narrative rarely make it inside these bubbles. If they do, they are met with overwhelming amounts of ridicule.
Burst Your Bubble!
You may not believe it, but you are trapped in a bubble just like that. Maybe yours tells you that Elon Musk is a lovable philanthropist that only wants the best for humanity. Perhaps it proclaims that Joe Biden is doing a great job or that NFTs are revolutionising our world, and you totally need to invest like right now. But all these narratives serve an ideological purpose that you may or may not be aware of.
Don’t fall into these cognitive traps. Try to break out of your bubble once in a while. Consume content that tells a different story and get different perspectives on things. Maybe read some foreign media, watch some conservative news programs or sign up to an alternative media platform.
We can still learn even if we disagree with the content they present to us. Consume content critically rather than just for the sake of it and question what you are served. Even if it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable to do so.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to cute animal videos—you’re always safe there. Isn’t that what the internet was really created for?!