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Posted at 12:49 PM ET, 11/03/2011

Popping the ‘supercommittee’ ‘Filter Bubble’


Sen. John Kerry(D-Mass.), of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka the “supercommittee,” listens to testimony from CBO Director Dr. Doug Elmendorf on Oct. 26. (Bill O'Leary)

The “supercommittee” has a “Filter Bubble” problem.

The Congressional panel is comprised of 6 Republicans and 6 Democrats and is charged with coming to an agreement on how best to reduce the nation’s deficit. However, each member of Congress brings with them a team of staff members, lobbyists and supporters prepared to arm their lawmaker with data and talking points to advance the agenda of their side of the aisle.

If you’ve heard of the "Filter Bubble", this should sound familiar.

The principle, which was first introduced by liberal activist group MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser, suggests that Internet users increasingly get information from people they know and from sources with which they are ideologically aligned. As a result, users only hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see. The long-reaching effects can be dangerous: The "Filter Bubble" can turn normally rational people into, as Slate’s Jacob Weisberg wrote, “solipsistic twits.”

Not that the 12 members of the Congressional Super Committee are “solipsistic twits.” But, as Erskine Bowles has warned, the stakes are high, and there’s a very real possibility that, if the political logjam is not broken, these 12 lawmakers will “fail the country.”

What’s most disconcerting, particularly in light of the “supercommittee,” is that its 12 members are caught in a "Filter Bubble" of their own making. As a result, the most likely solution will be to split the difference, with one side accepting a reduction of the federal safety net, and the other side accepting some increase in federal tax revenues.

With all due respect to the members of the ”supercommittee,” this solution is less than Super.

There is some good news, however. You can pop your "Filter Bubble". It starts with understanding how social networking sites and other Web sites track your activity, so that you can adjust your settings accordingly and maximize the flow of different ideas and competing insights from the edges of your network. In the real world, the way to pop your "Filter Bubble" is largely the same.The goal is to maximize the chances that voices and opinions not directly in alignment with your own still find a way of being heard, and that these voices and opinions are not locked away in separate silos.

In fact, there is a branch of decision-making science that pre-dates the Internet and seeks to solve the "Filter Bubble" paradox. (In pre-Internet days, the "Filter Bubble" was known simply as the Relevance Paradox) An information routing group (IRG) sounds cryptic and faintly intimidating, but it actually describes a simple solution to the problem expressed by the "Filter Bubble" known as interlock knowledge. In short, the key is to find ways for the expert voices within any hierarchy to get heard, whether they are junior or senior, dissenting or assenting. For supercommittee lawmakers, this insight could provide the ability to inject fresh thinking into a very rigid hierarchy and arrive at a solution to our nation’s mounting deficit within the next few weeks.

By opting for the lowest common denominator — a “supercommittee” split down the middle by party and ideology and encouraged to split the difference — Congress is close to missing an opportunity to craft an innovative solution to our nation’s fiscal problems. Lawmakers should realize that the key to crafting an innovative political solution is all about accessing the information and data at the edges of their networks, not in shrinking the number of possible solutions to the deficit reduction problem. In order to pop the Congressional "Filter Bubble,” remember: What's relevant is not always what we think is relevant.

Read more news on Innovations:

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By  |  12:49 PM ET, 11/03/2011

Categories:  Dominic Basulto, Morning Read

 
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