Do you want to stay anonymous or do your prefer personal service?
As for me, it depends.
I like personal service when I choose to connect to people e.g. in the place I live. I recognize them and they recognize me back, we exchange smiles or have a small talk. I am genuinely asking whether they are fine or happy. Yes, I want to buy my books or do my shopping with a smile, welcomed by friendly faces.
On the other hand, I don’t necessarily like customized and personal service run by web agents suggesting me what I might be interested in. Sometimes, I indeed look for such recommendations, especially when I search for books. However, when I am to explore a new subject and/or I want to learn something new, I want to explore spaces far behind the horizon. I am interested to see many different points of view.
Because I firmly believe that by exploring extremes and the places in between, I am better able to clarify what I want. The wider the perspectives or points of view, the broader the horizons and the better my ability to find the middle point or the center I am interested in. Learning about opposites makes me think for myself and inspires me to ask deep questions.
It is my choice.
For this reason I am not directly interested in finding the answers or recommendations I might like. I am much more interested in finding the information I might dislike, or even hate. It is the difference, the dissimilarity to my common experience or knowledge that shakes my grounds so that I can build a better foundation.
Remember that we learn the most not because we find concepts similar to ours but because we are exposed to previously unseen information or go through new experience. In this way I am strongly inspired to learn new things. Surprise, shock or curiosity are the vehicles to use.
Do you believe that it is you who is searching the information on the Web?
You may be surprised to learn that it might be the other way around.
You are not necessarily searching for information, but information is looking for you.
How do we know it?
First of all, you are never anonymous on the big World Wide Web. If you connect to a website your computer can be uniquely identified by its IP number. And if you
run a business with a website presence it is not difficult to find out to whom the website belongs. You often accept the cookies from other parties so that any other time you visit the same sites they can offer you a customized view.
Secondly, information is being stored all the time concerning the routes you follow on the Web. If you are often on Facebook, Linked, Tumblr, Pinterest or any other social media services it is easy to connect the dots – your login and your IP address – to know who you are.
As a result, you will see ads related to your search keywords or email topics in your open mail browser or even subjects you discuss with friends on Google chat or so.
This is what we all consciously or unconsciously accept whether we realize it or not. The consequence of this fact is profound. Whatever you write in your emails, comment on social media, write in your posts or anywhere else on the Web may stay forever in the vast valleys of the Network. Even if you remove your accounts, your communication and traffic information may be preserved for years.
This asks us to be honest and accountable for what we say, do and how we react. Please realize that all your words may stay in the “memory” of the Web for a very long time.
There is also another consequence I want to point out.
What if you know that your search is customized according to your likes?
This certainly holds for Google.
Make a small experiment. Search in Google for a phrase which is of your interest, e.g. “holiday in Turkey”, “personal development books” or something currently in the news. Do it 3x.
1) First time do it on your computer while login in to your active social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Tumblr, Google+ and alike, as well as email or other service.
2) Second time, sign off every social media. Clear all the cookies. Remove the history of searches.
Restart your browser and run your search.
3) The third time, use a different computer, possibly of somebody else. Run your search.
Are there any differences?
Well, they usually are and oftentimes they are huge.
It is not necessarily true that the information is not found when you search for it from a different computer, say, but it is the way it is presented back to you. Any search produces millions or zillions of possible answers. The ranking of the answers is customized according to specific indicators about the websites such as the popularity. More importantly, however, the answers are filtered in response to your likes, preferences (stored e.g. as the most frequent websites you visit), the likes of your friends on Facebook and so on. If you think it is impossible, I can assure you that is is algorithmically possible, and in use.
For instance, it is easy to make a profile of you by the tags, topics, news, sites or keywords – words you often use (again in social media, email, or various accounts). Every text, every post may have its own profile – even generated in the context of your search. What you then need is a similarity measure between two profiles, a measure that accounts for the overlap of the subjects and intensity (frequency) of the interest. A simple but fast-computable measure may already give satisfactory results for the first 10 returns. For sure, Google has its own strategy to achieve that.
The key point is this. Majority of people, when searching on the Web, do not look further than the first or second page of the results, where the results are highly influenced
by their local context. The remaining pages may actually be of high interest, as they are often for me.
The importance of each piece of information should and must be considered in the context – your preferences, networks you belong to, social media presence and so on. Be aware that what you find may only come from a narrow circle of your likes and likes of your local Web community.
Is this what you want?
As for me, I want the likes at times, yet more often than not, I want independent information. Or, at least, very different to what I know.
Become aware of the context-dependent search. You are a potential customer to all types of products and services. This comes as a natural symbiosis between you using freely the Web and the businesses that make living from their presence there. As with all media, the answers you get may be modeled towards specific interests or benefits.
The trap we get into is that we think about ourselves as individuals, creative and unpredictable. This is true about us as humans but not necessarily about us as potential customers. Any consumer understood as a statistical figure is, in his behavior and the way he makes decisions, often predictable, certainly when we average over masses. This holds also because we are firmly convinced that statistics doesn’t apply to us ;). Well, it does.
What we read and listen to models our thoughts, ideas and concepts.
We read what we find.
We find what we search.
Therefore, how we search is important. It may determine the quality of information we find and, consequently, the model of the world we create.
There is a difference between a book recommendation you may like and learning a new subject or forming a new concept. Explore both best matches and far away answers to learn about similarities and differences. Look for various points of view to form the ideas well and refine your concepts through atypical examples. This is necessary for practising your independent thinking and increasing intelligence.
As an aside note, there are private search engines which claim that they don’t use algorithms to satisfy our likes. An example is https://duckduckgo.com/
For sure there are many others.
There is also software that enables anonymity online. An example is https://www.torproject.org/.
Tor (The Onion Router) directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide volunteer network (via onion-like encryption levels) to hide a user’s location or usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. As the Wikipedia says “Using Tor makes it more difficult to trace Internet activity, including visits to Web sites, online posts, instant messages and other communication forms, back to the user.”
Be aware of your context. Search what you are looking to find. It creates your world.