business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There’s a simple phrase that may be the simplest way to understand why so many are so wrong about so much these days. And why they do all that with absolute certainty.

The phrase is Filter Bubble.
Consider this. On a recent shopping trip, my wife asked me to grab two cans of “fat free condensed milk.” In truth, I know nothing about condensed or evaporated milk other than it means she planning to bake something special.

At the same time I heard another woman in the aisle give her husband the same request. With total certainty he shot back, “it’s not really fat free you know.” Despite a clear label and his wife’s assurance, he was convinced. The label, he said, was simply a marketing gimmick and most certainly a lie.

That’s where the filter bubble comes in. We’ve long talked here about how too many of us these days limit our information flow to only sources that support our positions. Instead of being challenged, our views are reinforced with little regard for whether they are right or not. If someone wants to believe that fat-free condensed milk is a misleading label, he can. Heck, I bet I can quickly find answers on Google that will support that position.

Google can mislead. A recent article in Southwest Airlines magazine explained the filter bubble as a form of Google intelligence. Google tries to give us the answers we are most likely to use and websites we likely will open. My knowledge isn’t challenged; it is reinforced.

A recent article in the Daily Beast examined why doctors are no longer trusted advisers for so many patients. As the author, writing as “Doc Bastard,” explained, doctors now constantly face patient skepticism supported by all the articles produced in Google searches.

When doctors prescribe medication, patients assume a big pharma company paid for that moment. (John Oliver recently did an in-depth report about this on his wonderful HBO show.) Instead of physicians being trusted resources, many of us search for our own answers, ignoring the reality that our education and training may severely limit what we do and don’t understand.

Actress Jenny McCarthy, a leader of the anti-vaccine movement now leading to a measles outbreak in the west, once said she got her education from “the University of Google.”

Food products suffer the same fate. Even though the vast majority of consumers have no training in chemistry, they associate specific types of words with danger signs. As the Daily Beast pointed out, 3-methyl butyraldehyde looks as if it should be avoided because it’s hard to pronounce. Yet it is one of the most naturally occurring elements in all of nature.

The article continued: “Processed food sounds bad because it’s processed. You want to get back to how the cavemen ate - they ate only natural stuff and they were healthy, or so you think. It doesn’t matter that their average life expectancy was only 35 and yours is closer to 80.”

The question is: what do we do about this? We can’t chase down every theory or confront every misguided shopper in every aisle. Yet we still need to be part of this conversation with information in stores, on packaging and, of course, on line. We need to earn and maintain trust so that shoppers honestly believe fat-free means exactly that.

Here’s the thing: I love Google and I like skepticism. The former has become an indispensable life tool and the latter is essential for all of us. But everything needs moderation. And let’s be honest, everything I’m writing in this article is based on materials I found that support my premise. So I too am in the filter bubble.

Some of you will disagree with me and will write e-mails back to MNB. That’s great. It’s exactly the kind of open dialog we need.

But as an industry, it’s a dialog we need with shoppers who honestly believe the fat-free label is a lie or that all chemicals must somehow be bad.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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