So the @FutureGov crew in the shape of @carriebish @dominiccampbell and @laurenivory are over in New York for the Personal Democracy Forum #pdf10. Given the recent streamlining of my twitter stream so that I only follow 109 people, and given how many @futuregov fans there are in my twitterstream, and given everyone’s increased tendency to hit the retweet button, I’ve seen quite a lot of traffic about #pdf10 (and no I’m not complaining – that’s a good thing).
Last night I was observing the conversation and got sucked into a discussion with Carrie, Dom and @AnnePBowers re the language of co-production, co-design, co-operation, co-creation….we tried them all. In a nutshell my argument is that co-production feels to me too mechanical and too top down. I’ve never once suggested to my mates that we co-produce dinner, or co-design a barbecue – they’d just laugh at me and that language alone (besides being vague and a little aloof) to me would just indicate that I needed to take control….a far different co to co-ordinate or co-operate. Anyway I’ll do a fuller blog on language, especially co-production and co-design another time.
For now I wanted to respond to Carrie, who very kindly put together a blog post detailing her first day at #pdf10. There was obviously lots of food for thought coming out of the day but there was one thing in particular I wanted to respond about – Carrie’s thoughts on Eli Pariser‘s talk about personalisation.
(For those of you who are adult social care types this is personalisation in the IT sense, not personalisation as we know it…I’ll comment on that when I do the blogpost on language promised above).
It seems that Eli was talking about how google personalise the data and results that you see when you use their service and just when Carrie was warming up in full agreement, as she expected him to say he wanted to see more of it, he dropped the bombshell, as Carrie puts it “His bonkers argument was that it’s bad that different points of view are filtered out of my web experience and that this ultimately leads to me becoming closed-minded”.
So Carrie doesn’t agree with Eli…I’m not even going to try and paraphrase what she said, it’s here “Then it all went awry. Eli concluded that this means ‘people get more of what they want’ but it’s bad for citizens as it doesn’t challenge us or tell us what we need to know. Bleurgh! So his suggestion is that we should have a less personalised experience so we are forced to see stuff ‘for our own good’. What a ridiculously totalitarian position”.
So let’s place Eli at one end of this continuum and Carrie at the other – he thinks we should see stuff for our own good; Carrie makes an excellent argument that its simply control freakery of the highest order.
I’m really stuck on this….hence the decision to blog about it. It reminds me of my mum who (dependent on her mood admittedly) has a tendency if something too gruesome or sad or shocking comes onto the news to just change channel. If I’m watching with her I’ll challenge that on two levels – 1) because it’s irritating and I’ll no doubt want to hear about it and 2) because I think it’s lulling her into a false sense of security about life! Mean and bad things happen and a lot of the time I feel that we have a sort of moral responsibility to acknowledge these. (Don’t worry I’m well aware that I’m sat firmly in my own cloud cuckoo land here). A different but similar example that also springs to mind was that of Bush’s administration banning the American media from showing photographs of the coffins of service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. When this was overturned it was broadly seen as a win for transparency.
Now I appreciate that Carrie (and Eli) are talking about the search results returned by google and Carrie’s solution is to just give people their own data and let them decide their own experience. You can’t really disagree with Carrie at all on that regard but I guess I’m making a wider call for us to try and remain balanced and not personalise too far – or at least to be aware that you have personalised and to be explicitly transparent about that – so that you know what you are missing; and I guess that is where Eli has a point. If people aren’t aware that they are getting a limited result then how do they know what else is out there? Am thinking that a balance is what is needed….or maybe I just wanted an excuse to use the see-saw photo!!
Photo by tyger_lyllie
I suspect this links to another blog post that is lurking in the depths of the mind around how balanced our experiences of life in the online world really are – but that is definitely for another day. Thanks Carrie, looking forward to reading about day two.