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Illusion of free choices

An interesting BBC article notes that social media platforms like Facebook are not merely reflecting our preferences but also actively shaping them though "nudge like":
Platforms like Facebook are curating our news and information under catchall headings like “trending topics”, or criteria like “relevance” – but we only rarely get glimpses into how the filtering happens. This is important because subtle changes in the information we are exposed to can transform our behaviour. To understand why, consider an insight from behavioural science that has been widely adopted by governments and other authorities around the world: the policy “nudge”. This is where subtle tactics are used to encourage us to adopt a particular behaviour. One famous example is making organ donation opt-out rather than opt-in. Instead of requiring people to register themselves as organ donors, an opt-out system automatically assumes that anyone’s organs can be used for donation unless they have specified otherwise. Simply by switching the default assumption, more people end up donating.
This raises all sorts of interesting questions. Do news articles trend because they are popular or because they are shown to trend? It is the aged old question of whether the media really reports news or make it. The answer of course is both, which means that the medium is also the message. Technology like newspaper is not neutral. And our choices and preferences far from being completely exogenous are always endogenous.  

Why does all this matter? Because much of the cultural narrative around us is now about autonomous self and the desire to be truly independent. We are told to be "yourself". But we forget that to be yourself requires an objective definition of yourself. You cannot simply look to your preferences and choices as the basis of the true you because your choices and preferences are endogenous. They are influenced by the likes of Facebook. To really know our true self we need to look outside ourselves. We need to look to Him who made us. Only God revealed to us in the person of Jesus knows who we really are.

Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2017

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