A story recently through NPR’s Invisibilia team provided an intriguing look into the filter bubble we all tend to be in these days – that is encountering online or in person only those who are similar to us in views, socio-economic status, or general preferences for everyday living. The story was about a method for breaking out of the bubble through random encounters, or “bubble hoping”.
A software engineer, Max Hawkins, living in San Francisco felt that his life had gotten stale:
I just started thinking about these loops that we get into. And about how the structure of your life…completely determines what happens in it…There was something that just made me feel trapped. Like I was reading a story that I’d read before or I was playing out someone else’s script.
So, he created an app which randomly selected local events, activities, or group meetings listed as public events in Facebook for him to attend. The story recounts the variety of experiences resulting from following the randomizing algorithm in the app, ranging from drinking vodka with a small contingent of Russian expats to celebrating Christmas with a group of total strangers. The encounters were, by his account, initially disturbing and frightening, but in the end liberating and expanding.
In essence, following this method of living means that for Hawkins there were no longer strangers – only those people he had not yet encountered. It’s unlikely that many of us would want to go this far in stepping out of our “preferences prison”, as the NPR story puts it, but it may provide encouragement for us to try to find different people to encounter.