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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Filter Bubbles

by Seattle Jon (bio)

I've recently started attending Elders Quorum again after a longish period of back-room inactivity. Back-room meaning I would find a back room and read rather than attend. The reasons for my inactivity are not the point of this post, but I will share why I’ve returned and continue to attend - I decided to be a more active participant in the lessons. The point of this post, then, is to say what I wanted to say in a recent Elders Quorum, but didn't have the chance to say because time ran out with my hand in the air.

I don't remember the instructor’s question, but a fellow Elder’s response was what caused my own hand to go up. Here is what he said: "I recently overheard several of our youth talking in the hall. One of them said, "If I found out another kid was smoking or drinking, I wouldn’t be friends with them.""

I’m not surprised one of our youth said this. The church’s emphasis on obeying moral and behavioral codes (the Word of Wisdom in this case) comes early and often in our children's lives. Combine this emphasis with guidance in the home to avoid such behavior for health and safety reasons, and what mormon youth wouldn't believe such thinking is okay. If smoking and drinking are bad for me, then I shouldn't smoke or drink, then I shouldn't be around people who smoke or drink, then I can't be friends with people who smoke or drink. The leaps are not illogical, but at what point do our youth's filter bubbles need to be popped?

The phrase filter bubble was coined by Eli Pariser, the president of, in a June 3, 2010 talk at the Personal Democracy Forum. The phrase, as he uses it, relates to a person's search results, recommendations, and other online data having been filtered to match that person's interests, thus preventing the person from seeing data outside of his or her interests.

Considering the fact that more information is now created in a single year than was created from the beginning of human history through 2008, we, the human race, need filters. But we need to think of the values embedded in the filters we use. Personalized filters are a great corporate strategy, but they're bad for citizens because ultimately personalization could lead to the end of public conversation. The LDS church has its own filter – correlation (read Brad’s 9-part series on correlation over at BCC) – which in my opinion has been less than positive for church members because it too is leading to the end of conversation, to lively discussion, to variety and to debate.

The Elder continued by saying something like, "I wonder how many of us continue to think as this youth does … in that our friends, the culture we expose ourselves to and/or the information we use to inform our opinions are all filtered to match our existing beliefs." So, if you agree that conversation, lively discussion, variety and debate continue to be needed in the church, when do the filter bubbles of our youth need to start being popped? What might this youth have said instead of "… I wouldn't be friends with them."?

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