Should we hang out with people we don’t like

Homophily-based algorithms may not be good for us (previous post). Few points from the Guardian Week:

  • The faintly depressing human tendency to seek out and spend time with those most similar to us is known in social science as “homophily”, and it shapes our views, and our lives, in ways we’re barely aware of.
  • Technology, Zuckerman argues, risks making things worse: on the internet, most obviously, it’s possible to exist almost entirely within a feedback loop shaped by your own preferences
  • We long to have our opinions confirmed, not challenged, and thus, as the Harvard media researcher Ethan Zuckerman puts it, “Homophily causes ignorance.” (It also makes us more extreme, studies show: a group of conservatives, given the chance to discuss politics among themselves, will grow more conservative.)
  • The unspoken assumption here is that you know what you like – that satisfying your existing preferences, and maybe expanding them a little around the edges, is the path to fulfilment. But if happiness research has taught us anything, it’s that we’re terrible at predicting what will bring us pleasure. Might we end up happier by exposing ourselves more often to serendipity, or even, specifically, to the people and things we don’t think we’d like?

Someone is already at work: Ethan Zuckerman’s work toward a Serendipity Engine

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