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Leaving the place better than we found it
Seeing with my eyes closed
Thomas Jefferson on gun control
How to lie convincingly
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And the invincibility of youth
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Yet another gift of the road
The charming side of obstinance
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A movie critic looks in the mirror
We are not alone
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Mastering your master
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Experiencing life with God
A radical thought about our radicals
Redemption with style
Hidden heroes among us
Resetting our parallel processor
A village with heart
A lesson from the road
The bullet dodged
A soul sparkles
Isolation in style
Painless ways to lose your virginity : 11/12/15
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Myopic
Leveraging the internet to build our walls
11/23/16

On my byways, a common thread to barbershop talk is a displeasure with the recent hate-filled presidential campaign. In looking for the villains behind this, I came to a disturbing conclusion. The authors of this national tragedy are I and my geek sidekicks. Let me explain.

In 2008, Google began experimenting with personalized website ads based on your browsing habits, as recorded and stored in what are called cookies. Because of DoubleClick, AdSense, AdChoices, and many other organizations and software working behind the scenes, you may have noticed banner ads becoming surprisingly relevant to your interests. Most people dismissed the slight violation of privacy in favor of information so much better targeted to their needs and interests.

Over just the last few years, these personalized ads spread to other websites like social media (ads on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), and then even to website content. News media like Twitter started presenting information more likely to agree with your world view. If your cookie's browsing history showed you to be leaning toward Hillary Clinton, for example, you would be fed information that supported her. This was based on the simple premise that you would be more likely to click on such bits of information, more than say an exposé showing the good side of Trump. Your cookie thus made known that you would click on and buy pumpkins endorsed by Hillary more than those endorsed by Trump.

Much as effective marketing breaks you into buying demographics, social media funneled and sifted you into like-minded factions buying the same ideas.

With your browsing habits reinforcing your opinions over time as recorded in your cookie, your exposure to contrary facts are being curtailed as never before. Why? Because the internet has replaced magazines, radio, TV, newspapers, and every other way to confront you with facts, and cookies insures that you will only see facts (or more likely claims masquerading as facts) that support your opinions.

Trump understood this better than Hillary, tweeting regularly to a cult following growing more myopic every day because of this personalization of information. As Seth Lloyd has warned, "We have gone from being hunter-gatherers of information to being filter-feeders."

So how do we break this cycle, or perhaps even fix it? The bad news is that we can't. The quick fix of deleting your cookie buys you little since the data about your preferences has moved. It is now part of your online profile managed by nameless "big data" systems.

Worse, the system isn't what is broken; we are. The system is based on the timeless saying of Anais Nin's, "We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are." And that is what must change.

If you are a Trump fan, you must google "Good things about Hillary", and if you are a Hillary fan, you must google "Good things about Trump". You don't have to read the search results, but you must at least click on them. That is what will update your cookie and thus your online profile. That is what will inform the online information delivery and filtering system that you do not have conveniently myopic political leanings. Do it enough, and the system will lose its specifications about what to feed you from a political standpoint. It may refocus the personalization of your info feeds to what your cookie says are your football team preferences or your taste in wine.

In short, we must pretend to be the broad-minded individuals whom we secretly wish to be, and our online profile will follow along and treat us as one.

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Chicago Skyline

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Buckingham Fountain

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Buckingham Fountain going to sleep

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A monument to oneself

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Chicago River

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Chicago Board of Trade

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