In that dusty pre-Internet age, the tools for sharing information weren’t widely available. If you wanted to share your thoughts with the masses, you had to own a printing press or a chunk of the airwaves, or have access to someone who did. Controlling the flow of information was an elite class of editors, producers, media VIP’s and of course Gandalf who decided what people would see and hear about the world. They were the Gatekeepers.
Then came the Internet, which made it possible to communicate with millions of people freely. Suddenly anyone with an Internet connection could share ideas with the whole world. Today’s Internet giants Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft see the rise of available information as an opportunity. If they can provide services that sift though the data and supply us with the most personally relevant and appealing results, they’ll get the most users and the most ad views. As a result, they’re trying to offer personalised filters that show us the Internet that they think we want to see. These filters, in effect, control and limit the information that reaches our screens. Like the old gatekeepers, the engineers who write the new gatekeeping code have enormous power to determine what we know about the world. But unlike the best of the old gatekeepers, they don’t see themselves as keepers of the public trust.
It is in our collective interest to ensure that the Internet lives up to its potential as a revolutionary connective medium. This won’t happen if we’re all sealed off in our own personalised online worlds.