Debating the Internet

Monday, April 16, 2012

Siva Vaidhyanathan, chair of the Media Studies Department at the University of Virginia and the author of The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry), previews his Intelligence Squared defense of the argument that, "When it comes to politics, the Internet is closing our minds."

→ Event: Intelligence Squared debate with Eli Pariser, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Evgeny Morozov and Jacob Weisberg on Tuesday, April 17 at the NYU Skirball Center. Watch Live.

Comments [44]

Wildboer from NJ

@John from Annandale,

"The wider point is for us all to recognize that we're being shouted at and dictated to, manipulated, clouded and distracted -- and the need to regain some critical faculties and discernment."
Brian made that exact point when he went on MSNBC the other week(which was rather awkward considering he was in the belly of the beast). Also, Ashrikinin seems to have fallen victim to the false equivalence president Obama spoke of a week or so ago. One of the main reasons we've lost our critical faculties and discernment is that the media is afraid to assertively state facts without being called biased.

"Do you think T. Martin is the only person who has been shot dead by another person lately?"
WNYC knows this very well. Check out this piece from last week...

Apr. 16 2012 05:28 PM
Burying free sites under costly ones from Free telephone directories and reverse lookup

There was a time when one could easily look up a telephone
number FOR FREE on the internet. One could also do a
reverse telephone directory search for free. These are
trivial to do technologically, and very helpful to many people.

Sadly, GOOGLE (and other search engines) have allowed the
REALLY FREE SITES to be BURIED under MULTIPLE listings for
sites that provide THE SAME SERVICE - but for a FEE!
As a net result, it is almost IMPOSSIBLE nowadays to find
a REALLY FREE telephone directory site. (Most of the for-pay
THIS IS A SCAM. Google (or the other websearch services) should fix
this form of search-engine-optimization SPAM.
Similar problems exist for people who provide retail services like
locksmiths. The problem is VERY WIDESPREAD and has decreased
the practical effectiveness of internet search. (As a result
more people are forced to use Social networking to find practically
useful sites).


Apr. 16 2012 02:08 PM
John from Annandale NJ

In Reply to Ashrikinin from Washington DC:

I wasn't simply attempting to make an indictment against Brian -- He is a human after all, and he has opinions, and he IS an employee, and his show IS called "The Brian Lehrer Show" after all, not "Informed Ideas" or something. The wider point is for us all to recognize that we're being shouted at and dictated to, manipulated, clouded and distracted -- and the need to regain some critical faculties and discernment. The constant repetition of the same names and news stories leads us to believe that we should be spending our time thinking about said stories... Do you think T. Martin is the only person who has been shot dead by another person lately? Do you think there may be an actual CHOICE for who becomes president? It's like pouring syrup in our ears until we can't hear anything any more...

Apr. 16 2012 12:29 PM
nanc from nyc

please tell me about this stie someone sent's so scary and i don't know if it's conspiratorial or part truth/all truth.. silly/ fear mongering?
thank you..i haven't had time to discover counter theories, but this is about our DNA and skin wounds and environmnet:

Apr. 16 2012 12:29 PM
ashrikinin from Washington DC

John from Annendale: I could not agree more. Brian Lehrer is NOT neutral as the role of broadcast journalist which is 101 journalism. He has made his conclusions and will try to force his guest into the laundry list of items he has in front of him. It is not an investigation of any issue; it is an inquest.

Apr. 16 2012 11:51 AM
SLH from Queens, NY

Not an article, but a segment of Dr. Phil's Friday 4/13/12 show discussing chronic Lyme Disease. Are they really sick, or are they faking it?

Apr. 16 2012 11:48 AM
John from Annandale NJ

There's an essay that I believe every WNYC listener (& every consumer of media) should read, especially in this run-up to the election. It's called "The Braindead Megaphone" by George Saunders. It's a humorous look at how "the loudest guy in the room" controls "the discussion." I couldn't find a link to the whole essay, but here is one to a synopsis and brief excerpt. (If anyone can find a link to the entire essay and upload it here, I'd be much obliged.)

Apr. 16 2012 11:46 AM
Bob from nyc

Anyone notice all the Russia Today stories on Google? Also, every Israel story is slanted toward Palestinians. Google makes a new logo for every holiday you never heard about but NOT ONCE CHANUKA.

Apr. 16 2012 11:35 AM
John A. from the browser

A good day is Leonard & Brian's guest bringing up an interesting point.
Over to Amazon to check out the comments on their book.
Over to google to check keywords bound with their name.
On to Wikipedia to check the history of whatever idea.
The results are logged to a personal journal.
Trends get cut&pasted together in the journal for comparison.
Probably what Half this audience does, but anyway.

Apr. 16 2012 11:31 AM
Julianne from Brooklyn

Interesting discussion.

But I've been frustrated for awhile that NYTIMES and NPR/WNYC seem to cover exactly the same topics. Including interest stories, not just news. So the google effect has trickled into my two favorite news sources.

Apr. 16 2012 11:30 AM
ana from nyc

this great essay by a Romanian-born theatre artist on Howlround says it all:


Apr. 16 2012 11:30 AM

Extra credits for multiple sides of an issue.

What an enlightened guide. Every resource has its limit.

Apr. 16 2012 11:29 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

Folks, please also post other/better SEARCH ENGINES. Thx

Apr. 16 2012 11:29 AM

AFAICT Google's Page-Rank algorithm as made page ranking a popularity contest from the beginning, which can be helpful at times, a real problem at others, and in my experience personalization has increased both. Finding obscure or complex information seemed to get easier for a while, but then harder again.

(There is an obscure collection of software that i search for as a test. Once upon a time it just wasn't listed. Then for a while it was listed on the second page. Now it's listed on the third of fourth page well after other listing with names that are similar to varying degrees, but not an exact string match. That is, a dumb ol' string match would have been more accurate.)

Recently I also notice that when I change from shopping to research or vice versa Google's search results seem to take a while to catch on.

I'd like to see Google offer more user options for sorting, filtering, etc.

Apr. 16 2012 11:28 AM

This is assuming you have a Google account, right?

Apr. 16 2012 11:28 AM
Edward from NJ

To avoid over-personalization, perhaps the listener library should exclude links from the New Yorker and The New York Times.

Apr. 16 2012 11:28 AM

Wouldn't it be great if we could choose to iGoogle to inquire and aGoogle to acquire?

Apr. 16 2012 11:25 AM

This isn't related to politics, but as a physicist I see google scholar being used far more in my field. I hope it isn't introducing biases in its search results.

Apr. 16 2012 11:24 AM
Nora from Brooklyn

My husband and mother both follow politics closely. Both are fervently liberal. My husband makes sure to follow as many conservative sites as liberal, so he knows what's going on in the political world as a whole. My mother stays in her comfortable liberal bubble. The former approach is certainly more work.

Yahoo "news" is tabloid fare--the worst of national tv news. Accidents, storms, murders, and celebrities. CNN is hardly any better.

Apr. 16 2012 11:23 AM
Angela from Brooklyn (again)

When were our minds open in the first place?

Apr. 16 2012 11:22 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I find that the Internet is definitely an enlightening source of information. It provides access to information that we might formerly have shlepped to a library to get, and we can do it from the comfort of a chair in our living rooms, offices, etc.

On the other hand, it does help to clean cookies and browsing history on a regular basis, as well as learning to search with a variety of search terms. As a matter of fact, I have friends who ask me to search for things for them because they don't know how to word a search query properly.

One other thing is that one must be certain to get as many sources as possible when searching. There is a LOT of garbage on line and many people have not learned to be very discerning, so they believe any old garbage that pops up. Make sure to get sourced information instead of just the illiterate blogs and ramblings of the insane.

Apr. 16 2012 11:22 AM
Bradlee from Greenpoint

I believe that it is an excellent point that we are more and more getting fed what we already agree with. I think that the way that I get the majority of information that completely conflicts with my world view is due to the fact that I have so many family members on Facebook who hold views in complete polarity to my own, I say this as someone who tries to read a wide variety of sources for my information. I think part of the issue could be that regardless of what I read, or where I read it, that I am going to look for the angle that relates to my version of reality. What I see as, at times revolting, posts from my rather large family is what reminds that there are quite different perspectives out there, and I can't 'unfriend' my family.

Apr. 16 2012 11:21 AM
Emmanuel from westchester


I wonder if the awesome success of google is due in large part to the fact that going to organized website's URL is often complicated: all the www's and .com's urls are kind of alien to language and an objective.. So in a sense google and the act of googling acts as a kind of screen between individuals and their consumption of w/e it is they consume... The result in my opinion, is that this act re -enforces that there should be an individual decision made, but the act is grounded that the individual doesn't know the exact URL or object.. Therefore, the first action an individual engages in through googling is to assert a decision where they may have been none.

Apr. 16 2012 11:19 AM
J from NYC

The problem with this conversation is that you are assuming that Google's profiling ability is accurate. Somehow I found where Google showed who they thought I "was". From their analysis they thought I was a 70 year old conservative man. Ha! I'm a 45 year old liberal woman. I do have a background in engineering and I do watch how various sites "respond" to who they think I am. I am often entertained about their mistakes... but prefer they'd just give up because it is often personally offensive. I changed a setting on Google so that (supposedly) they don't try to guess who I am and what I want. My experience has Dramatically Improved since.

Apr. 16 2012 11:19 AM

can't you just disable cookies before searching to sidestep personalization?

Apr. 16 2012 11:19 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Having stood up for the correct pronunciation of "Cartagena" on the 1st segment, I have to point out that the name of that Israeli newspaper is "ha-AH-retz," not "ha-ah-RETZ."

Apr. 16 2012 11:18 AM
Laura from UWS

Online news is shaped by media owners (largely Conservative). Talking points of the day.
I have to search far and wide to get to the heart of the matter. For example, almost everybody got it wrong about the "never worked a day in her life" comment.

I read foreign newspapers online and am shocked how they, too, pick up the American mass media talking points.

I always try to look for what should have been reported and what might have been reported if all the oxygen hadn't been sucked out the news by the talking point of the day.

P.S. Bravo to Brian's listener who nailed it today about the missing word: "never HAD to work a day in her life....."

Apr. 16 2012 11:18 AM
Rusty Dab

The problem would seem to be that Google is a commercial enterprise and it is that which, as the guest suggests, makes it good for shopping but puts it at odds with good education or intellectual inquiry. Compare it with old fashion libraries, which are non-profit and are fully dedicated to intellectual purposes.

Apr. 16 2012 11:18 AM
Scott H from New York, NY

It would take a very rare piece of journalism to change someone's mind on a political issue: most people's political views are formed before they even begin consuming journalism. People consume journalism as entertainment, and all Google is doing is streamlining and improving this entertainment experience.

Apr. 16 2012 11:17 AM
Kevin Healey from Mamaroneck, NY

Siva can you say more about "The Gospel of Google" as you mention in your book? Does Google embody a religious ideology in its veneration of technology?

Apr. 16 2012 11:17 AM
Rick from Long Island

Let's cut these services some slack. They just started getting us results that we want, we should recognize it will take some more engineering and time to build a service that gives us information we need.

Also, if one's sole source of information on an intellectual topic is a Google search, I don't think we can ever blame Google.

Apr. 16 2012 11:17 AM
margareta ruza from brooklyn

I read this great essay about quantified identities and the little boxes Google forces us in:

read it, it's very insightful!

Apr. 16 2012 11:16 AM
David from West Hempstead

An interesting link for all involved:

Apr. 16 2012 11:15 AM
Emmanuel from westchester

I wonder if the awesome success of google is due in large part to the fact that going to website URL is often complicated: all the www's and .com's urls are kind of alien to language.. So in a sense google and the act of googling acts as a kind of screen between individuals and their consumption of w/e it is they consume... The result in my opinion, is that this act re -enforces that there should be an individual decision made, but the act is grounded that the individual doesn't know the exact URL.. Therefore, the first action an individual engages in through googling is to assert a decision where they may have been none.

Apr. 16 2012 11:15 AM

Before about 2003 google was infinitely more useful -- it delivered far more information, in more ways -- and it was agnostic.

The tool declined rapidly for deep digging once google shifted its attention from the pile information itself, to the potential user of it. Which makes sense, given its history of starting and an information company and then redefining itself as an advertising company.

Apr. 16 2012 11:15 AM
John A. from the browser

FYI Intelligence Squared on YouTube:
I get them over PBS, Saturday afternoon.

Apr. 16 2012 11:14 AM
RJ from prospect hts

I don't agree that these tools help *even* with shopping. Do I really want to wear/use the same items year after year? Why don't I want to consider other styles from other cultures, perhaps other tools to cook or furnish with? If I want something precisely like what I have, I can google that item or use similar words to find it.

I deeply agree with his basic premise--that finding other points of view has been more directed by these tools, and I don't like it. Including the "location" function of google. I will occasionally change the location (though it does not allow *international* location changes) and get different results. I resent that.

Apr. 16 2012 11:14 AM

Recently, I unGoogled myself, switching to the private search engine, which does not track your clicks. There are choices.

Apr. 16 2012 11:12 AM

If you want more of the same, google will find it for you. If you want something different, google will hide it from you. What do you use the internet for? Maybe I don't want more opinions that simply agree with mine; maybe I'd like to find out what someone else thinks.

Apr. 16 2012 11:12 AM
Nick from UWS

Not to mention the complete destructon of privacy. People were afraid for years of the government's creation of Big Brother and 1984. Well they needn't worry, the way it has turned out the people have created Big Brother for themselves willingly and voluntarily. Obviously most people have so little self-respect that they don't care about their own privacy.

Apr. 16 2012 11:11 AM
Bill from New Rochelle

Not just GOOGLE.

I edit a US news blog, (TOPIX.NET) and I am continually shocked by both the deliberate ignorance, and the close-mindedness, of people who get most of their 'information' from a FOX-Murdoch source. They take this "entertainment" as fact; and cannot be dissuaded because it agrees with their already-formed world-view.


Apr. 16 2012 11:11 AM
John A. from the browser

Massive waste of time - what Nick said - Yes. That's the leading fail of the internet in 14 to about 30 age group. People talkig about the minutiae of their daily lives, fantasizing about videogames and movies FOR YEARS.

Apr. 16 2012 11:09 AM
Nick from UWS

The worst thing about the internet is that it has millions of people sitting immobile in front of screens, like zombies, staring bug-eyed with their mouthes hanging open, hour after hour after hour, wasting away their time on earth. It's making people incapable of dealing with each except through digital communication. A very bad thing.

Apr. 16 2012 11:05 AM
John A. from the browser

When it comes to Athiesm over Religion - that debate - I'll agree.
I see massive closure of minds on YouTube and Tumblr.

For pure Politics I would support singling out Cable TV news as the leading closer.

Apr. 16 2012 11:04 AM

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