Cognitive Bias and Review of Bandwidth by Eliot Peper

 

Bandwidth is available now in multiple formats

One of the things I love about Kindle unlimited is that I’m regularly finding new authors that I wouldn’t necessarily know about otherwise. At my reading rate I often find that I’m trying to pick a new book at odd hours of the day (or night) and will go with something new recommended by Amazon and this is how I came across Bandwidth by Eliot Peper.

Kindle had this prominently as a Sci-Fi choice for me while I was in the middle of several different dragon-related fantasy series and I was very much motivated for something a little more thought provoking.

And this is.

Bandwidth is a near future sci-fi, so much so that at times it was easy to forget that it was a sci-fi novel. I loved that aspect – the world was eerily familiar.

The main character, Dag, is a very successful lobbyist, the kind that pushes voters in whatever direction his clients want with little consideration for the impact of the results on anything. I was almost put off by the sheer alpha-maleness of this lead and his internal monologue that felt a little too archaic for the setting of the book, but I’m glad I stuck with it. I see from the reviews on Amazon that at least one other person stopped early. Trust me, if the first few pages make you bristle, then you’ll get to the end and enjoy it all the more. It’s not a spoiler to say that early on in the story Dag is shaken from his world view by a close call with death and his choices and internal voice following that and subsequent events are what binds the narrative of the book all the way to end.

The feed that supplies all of the information in Dag’s world is an always connected personal internet that is supposed to be completely secure. What if it wasn’t? Dag discovers early on that things he considered private were not as private as he thought. Something is happening with the feed and it’s going to impact the world. While science fiction, the main theme of the book is about the choices we make and why, something that resonates with what’s happening in the world in 2018.

The technology behind this all feels very real, and the conversations are easy to imaging happening now. It’s a picture of the future that has a very high possibility of occurring. Bandwidth is well worth a read, and then a long think about how you make your own conclusions.

While I don’t want to give away the book too much I do want to discuss the main themes so the following could be considered spoilers – read with caution!

One of the big problems with the feed and Dag’s consumption of it is that facts can be presented in different ways and volume of exposure can influence our thinking, particularly when it is delivered from trusted sources.

We are, right now, living in curated bubbles of mass information. I’ve written before about Cognitive bias theory, which explains that we accept things that agree with our views with little or no evidence, but will go out of our way to discount information that we disagree with. How do we form these biases? Our experiences create us. Even if you are aware of your bias it is very difficult to question your motives at every point. There are many people who want to manipulate us, from the politicians securing our votes to the salesman convincing us we need to get the slightly better model of car. It’s exhausting to question every piece of information to which we are exposed. It’s easy to see a caption on an image from a trusted person and share it, reinforcing our own beliefs. It’s easy to vilify everyone who doesn’t think like you. We need to be better than that. We need to be more critical of the information with which we are presented, both the items that we agree with and those with which we disagree. We must apply the same level of rigour to everything, look for the facts under the emotion and where those facts have come from. Look for the context not the soundbite.

I don’t always manage this myself1, but I do try to be aware of it. It’s one of the reasons I rarely pick up anything from mainstream media anymore. Stories are presented in ways to manipulate our cognitive biases. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the BBC accused of being left-leaning and government supporting (currently centre-right) by different groups. It is both, at different times, in different programs, based on the editor and presenter of those programs. When you are aware of it, you see it. You hear the phrasing of the questions designed to provoke specific responses. I’m not singling out the BBC here, but it’s the one that has the most controversy as it’s funded by our TV licenses and therefore should be completely unbiased. But the people in it are human, they have their own views and biases and it affects the broadcasts.  It is also far less biased than many other media corporations.

I’ve started watching more and more Philip DeFranco as a short source of news, albeit USA centric. He does a very good job of presenting the facts as they are and then giving his opinion on those facts. While also being accused of bias by some, he doesn’t present his opinion as the story and has built a community of people of different views who are willing to engage in rational debate (most of the time at least). If only other news agencies could aspire to be more Phil.

It’s a scary thought that there are people who solely consume facts from within a filter bubble and never question what is in front of them. This is how you let yourself get manipulated and by not questioning you are complicit in that manipulation. Be prepared to change your view as new facts come out and put as much energy into verifying what you agree with as dismissing the opposite.

Don’t be passive about how other people influence you.

#BeMorePhil

  1.   I am human after all 🙂
janet
Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. I’m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University.

During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.

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janet

Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. I’m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University. During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.

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