How to Hack Serendipity...and Start a Healthy News Diet
We are creatures of habit. As we live in those comfortable loops we barely deviate from, we rarely question the “why” of our doing so. Technology, once thought of as a means of emancipation, has become a way to feed us an endless stream of news we want to hear and believe in — what Nicholas Negroponte calls the daily me.
But by staying in our own bubble, don’t we lose the very individuality we’re supposed to preserve? And if so, is there a way to change this?
As serendipity becomes more and more restrained by so-called “tailored algorithms”, I have been thinking about a way to force serendipity to happen. Even before that, I had the chance to experience it at a personal level. For example, I read most of Evelyn Waugh’s novels thanks to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation
as I was curious to learn about this author with a fancy name.
Likewise, I read Marie-Antoinette’s biography by Stefan Zweig
even though I originally thought it’d be uninteresting to learn about a highly privileged teenager who became queen at sixteen, but I liked Zweig and willingly made an effort to go against my first reaction.
But enough about my — debatable — tastes, my point is that serendipity can be hacked by being constantly curious and willing to use the connections between what we like and things we don’t know about, or even by going against our very instincts.
By doing so, we foster a richer and broader perspective, and get to grow as an individual. It is especially true when applied to politics, where our opinions are of more consequence.
Unfortunately, most of our lives are spent working, and when we finally exit the shop, the factory, the office, or simply turn off our computer — for those who work from home — we want to unwind, and rightly so. Many of us don’t have either the time, the energy or the willingness to think about how to grow and challenge our own news reading habits.
The problem is that reading a seemingly innocuous article has deeper consequences than it appears at first glance.
Despite all the bells and whistles about tech and innovation, when it comes to business models, the most successful tech companies generally rely on ads. Which is why this quote
still holds true to this day :
“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” — Jeffrey Hammerbacher
Does it matter? Can’t people just use an ad blocker?
It does matter. A lot. Because the content we’re served every day is tailored to us — or whatever “us” is according to private companies: which means we’ll keep getting content that engages us so that we’re likely to click on… more ads!
By keeping us more engaged, the user data collected by those companies get increasingly granular which allows them to resell ad placements targeting fine segments of the population.
In addition to being a breach of our privacy, it also affects how we form opinions
and hence how we debate and even how we feel
. It divides us and confines us to our own filter bubble
while feeding us low-quality information.
Serendipity Applied to Politics
One of the place where serendipity is most needed is politics. Today, the divide between Democrats and Republicans has never been wider (see graph below). Polarization has been constantly rising
, and so far nothing significant has been done to reverse that worrying trend.
Of course, politics will always be polarizing. It has to be, with various groups of citizens with different levels of wealth and needs. But in order to find some common ground or at least understand why those who disagree with us are rational beings and not just “deplorables”, it is important to break out of our echo chamber
But when is the last time you read an article from a media source that doesn’t share your political views?
So how do we end up all gathering around a bonfire singing Kumbaya? Well, it probably won’t happen that way, but there is a solution to partly bridge the political gap while minimizing the amount of individual effort required.
Bridging that gap and helping you break out of your echo chamber is why I decided to create doppl
— short for Doppelgänger
I realized that I was not the only one who was unsatisfied with our broken news cycle and I assembled a strong team willing to take a chance at building a solution.
Together, we want to leverage our knowledge in tech and our years of experience working for companies ranging from industrial groups to startups and consultancies. We decided to work on a solution as simple as possible, where we could rapidly iterate from.
doppl is a browser plugin that you can use while reading the news. Say you’re reading the Wall Street Journal (fairly conservative) and you’d like to know more on the specific subject you’re reading about but from an opposite perspective. Well, you just have to click on doppl, and lo and behold, you’re redirected to an article on the same subject from, say, the New York Times (fairly liberal).
Your personal effort is next to null and you get to:
- be exposed to other perspectives;
- save time as you don’t have to sift through multiple websites;
- break out of your echo chamber, if only for a moment;
- start a healthy news diet.
As doppl’s goal is to be available to the many, we will make it free and accessible to everybody. To get it started we’d love a push in the right direction.
You can contribute directly by either: liking and sharing this article and by getting in touch here
It’s still a long road ahead
Like I said, we’re launching a browser plugin (first on Chrome considering how many of us
are using it). But we’re planning to offer products that’ll encompass other ways to follow the news while keeping you alert and out of your bubble.
Right now, we’re offering you a minimal product that we’ll keep progressively improving. Yes, there will be bugs and errors and we’re okay with that. Our goal is to enable you to have a tool that responds to your needs by iterating from your feedbacks.
So feel free to reach out to us at: email@example.com
is a browser plugin
that helps you follow the news while getting different perspectives compared to the ones you’re used to. It is free
and accessible to everyone.We’re building it because we believe that varied news media are paramount to fostering informed opinions
and to sustaining our democracy
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