Filtering the world

by Simon St. Laurent

Related link:

CNN is covering a DVD player that automatically edits DVDs to remove "potentially offensive content". Apart from the obvious howls, I'm thinking that something different is happening to culture today. People on all kinds of levels are actively filtering the contents of all kinds of media. For some people it's violence in movies, for others it's radio and television, and for some of us it's spam of whatever variety. Caller ID gave people the chance to filter their phone calls.

I don't look at all kinds of filtering the same way. I can't, for example, imagine using the ClearPlay DVD player myself, though I use spam filtering and non-destructive email filtering all the time. Filtering is a common coping strategy for dealing with all kinds of aggravations, including the sheer volume of information flows we have to deal with today.

While it's certainly a coping strategy, I have to wonder what it means that there is so much out there that we feel we have to cope with. The ubiquity of filtering in all its forms suggests that a lot of information sources, intentionally or not, are perceived as hostile by the people receiving them. Spam comes with having an email account, while sex and violence come with movies. (Heck, DVDs won't even let you skip the ads!) Junk mail comes with getting the mail, and bills of all flavors now include advertising flyers.

I don't sympathize with the ClearPlay agenda, but I do think it's worth pausing for a moment to ask why so many people are putting so much effort into filtering away parts of the world they find unpleasant.

Is filtering a cure or a symptom?


2004-04-28 15:57:43
Filtering or Fair Use?
I don't want to buy one, but I think the ClearPlay DVD player is brilliant. There's really no substantial difference between watching a DVD sliced up to meet your own morality/preferences and the Grey Album. (If anything, ClearPlay is less infringing since there's no redistribution.)

As a media consumer, I welcome tools and technologies that help me shape my media consumption experience to meet my needs and desires. Perhaps I want singles instead of whole albums. Perhaps I want to watch Terminator 3 without seeing the Governator's ass. Perhaps I want to watch the Daily Show and skip the ads. Perhaps I want to watch CSI but skip the ten second zooming swoop through a bug-infested digestive tract.

Certainly, there are negative consequences to excessive filtering. There is something to be said for the nationwide experience of being exposed to the same front page of the New York Times (although even that may differ from region to region) so as to share a national news agenda. But the way to have that happen is to present news or entertainment in a compelling package that makes a reader or viewer voluntarily experience that package as it was packaged by the creator.

I am reading "The Confusion" by Neal Stephenson right now. It's structured so that I could skip alternate chapters and then go back and read the ones I missed. But instead I'm playing by his rules and experiencing the story as he intends me to. This is because I enjoy the story enough and trust his artistic judgement. But I've read plenty of trashy science fiction and thriller novels where I've happily skimmed over the boring parts. It's the author's responsibility to make me buy into his or her vision of what the story should be.

2004-04-28 23:02:45
if you can't control what is sent to you...
People filter data to indeed cope with the sheer volume of data coming their way.
Removing that which they don't need or want might reduce that volume to something they can still manage.

Of course a DVD player that removes everything someone (presumably someone at the manufacturer's rather than you yourself) finds objective is a bit over the top.
You knew the movie might include nudity or violence (if you rent something featuring van Damme I doubt you're expecting a comedy for example) so you ARE controlling the flow by choosing which movie to get in the first place.

In this case the machine is probably more of a marketing tool to lure parents into spending more money (after all, it's all to protect your kids from violence and porn).
It's the V-chip all over again, which blew up when it turned out the violence rating would mean Tom and Jerry cartoons would be filtered as being violent and Popeye for violence and racism.

2004-04-29 05:22:35
It'd be k3wl if you could reverse the filter..
It would make most Hollywood movies a lot more accurate and to the point ;)