In the aftermath of the 2016 election, there has been a new focus on the “filter bubble”: the phenomenon of being fed news and social media that is tuned to your existing point of view, rather than challenging it.
Filter bubbles are a problem for democracy. We believe they’re a problem for creativity, too.
How so? A classic rookie mistakes in design work is “me-search”—doing research on yourself and creating something tailor-made for your needs, rather than seeking broader inspiration from the outside world. So, in service of greater creativity—and maybe a more clear-eyed body politic—here are four ways to escape your bubble.
1. Talk to Strangers
Now that the time and directions are available on every smartphone, it's amazing how little we need to talk to strangers. But think about what is lost when you never have a serendipitous encounter. To reignite this habit, seek out contexts that are naturally social: bars, book clubs, craft circles. Go alone, so you're required to interact with someone new. Going solo not your bag? Here's another approach: Follow Bill Murray’s advice and strike up a conversation with every taxi driver you ride with. Ask them plenty of questions beginning with the word “why.” Maybe you’ll figure out, as Murray did, what’s preventing them from doing what they love.
2. Unfollow People Like You
If you're choosing to hear from people who think exactly like you, you're going to get sucker punched every time public opinion swings the other way. Are you a bleeding-heart liberal? Try following conservative pundits, think tanks, and some of the average Joes who tune into them. Lean to the right? Look to the left! Hat tip to Harper Reed, CTO of the 2008 Obama campaign, for this one. Reed recently unfollowed most of the white men in his Twitter feed, instead directing his attention to women, people of color, and people with disabilities. Just to be clear, this was not an act of political correctness—his motivation was to expose himself to different points of view, in service of inspiring his personal creativity.
3. Join a Different Demographic
When it comes to picking a night out, most of us choose something that we know we're going to enjoy. And chances are, we’ll be surrounded by people just like us. As an alternative, go for an evening activity in which you're immersed in a completely different demographic. If you're a millennial, hit up bingo night with seniors. If you're a Boomer, grit your teeth and shake it off at a concert full of teenagers. If you're visiting a new city, seek out a comedy open mic and see what people are talking about. Yes, there's every chance that this evening’s experiment won't be as comfy as your usual fare... but we bet that it will help you understand people’s needs in a different way, making you better suited to creating new things for them.
Giving back is always the right thing to do, and it has the seldom-mentioned added benefit of easing you out of your filter bubble. Whether you're helping the homeless, people with disabilities, or any other group, you will be eye-to-eye with people you rarely encounter on your Facebook feed. The fact that you're serving others is a bonus. The person you may be helping most is yourself.
Illustrations by Ashley Holtgraver.
Neil Stevenson is on a mission to understand creativity and find new ways to enable and encourage it in others. He's particularly interested in how the slowly-evolving human brain interacts with the rapidly-changing tech environment we live in, and the strange and wonderful new behaviors that emerge as a result.