Creating a Better Bubble through Browser Extensions
“Living in a bubble” is usually a derisively used term. You hear it used to describe people who aren’t aware of some piece of news/gossip that doesn’t affect their lives and that they can’t do anything about. The first time I ever heard it referred to positively was Bryan Caplan’s essay My Beautiful Bubble and his follow up essay Make Your Own Bubble. They describe and defend the libertarian/nerd bubble he’s constructed for himself. Although we don’t share the same world view his larger point of filtering out things that just cause you aggravation without improving your life is useful.
It’s not a new concept though. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about circle of concern and cirle of influence. When my car tells me the tire is flat it’s in my circle of concern because it’s aggravating me but it’s also within my circle of influence because I can fix it. When I find out that the Dow Jones lost 100 points that’s something that is in my circle of concern but I can’t do anything about it because I have no control over it (incidentally this is why I don’t follow stock market and just dump money into index funds). Ideally you want as much of your circle of influence to be in your circle of control.
The Venn diagram of concern & influence should overlaps as much as possible.
This is much harder if you spend any time at all on social media, news sites, ad supported platforms or really anywhere on the internet. Even if you avoid the sites that annoy you, and don’t succumb to click-bait titles you’ll still be angered when your Aunt Petunia posts an article supporting
candidate you hate or
cause you don't care about is posting an ad asking for money.
Rather than completely give up on the internet I’ve started using Chrome extensions to mediate how I surf the web. By using them I find myself wasting less time and becoming less frustrated. It also makes my browsing experience much different than other peoples’, even those with similar interests.
Your internet is not my internet
This is the extension that’s saved me the most annoyance. Initially I was only using it in ‘default’ mode which just hides any articles/tweets/posts about the 2016 presidential campaign. Since I already know who I am voting for reading article after article about it was just a frustrating waste of time. Unfortunately as the election gets closer and closer election coverage is everywhere. By installing this I could still be on the internet and just not see those articles. It also allows you to do custom blacklisting, so you can filter out any news about the Yankees, Avon products or renaissance faires.
Probably the most commonly installed way to improve your browsing experience. It gets rids of ads and scripts to track you, which besides slowing sites down are incredibly irritating. If you search for any expensive product (life insurance, car insurance etc.) you’ll start seeing ads for it on every site you visit. A few months ago I was researching cars and I started seeing ads for cars on almost every site I went to. Pretty much everyone should be using it.
Being a millenial I have a weakness for click-bait articles about my generation. Most of them are poorly written and light on analysis. But still I read them. This extension simply replaces phrases like “Millenial” or “Occupy Wall Street” with “Snake Person” and “great ape-snake war”. When I hit a sentence that includes a snake-person term my mind starts to think “Does this article make any sense if it wasn’t referring to millenials”. This is usually enough to get me to stop reading, and even if I do continue it makes the article a hell of a lot more entertaining.
Another commonly installed extension is Siteblock and it’s ilk. You give them a list of sites and while the extension is on you can’t go to those sites. When I’m waiting for code to compile or just waiting for someone to IM me back it’s nice not to get sucked in by Hacker News, TvTropes or Twitter. It saves me the mental energy of stopping myself from going to those sites when I really don’t want to.
Chrome Custom Search Engine
It’s not actually an extension but an underused feature in Chrome. 90% of the time when I want to learn about something new the first thing I want to read is the Wikipedia article about it. Unfortunately depending on how popular/lucrative the topic is the Wikipedia article might not be on the first page of Google Results.
Luckily Chrome allows you to set up your address bar to use specific sites search engines. So when I want to learn about a new topic I simply go to my address bar and type
w Category Theory and I search Wikipedia for Category Theory. If I need to buy something I type
a cat food and search for cat food. It’s fairly simple to setup and there’s a writeup of how to create one here
May these extensions strengthen your bubble.
Every person’s bubble is different and requires custom care to maintain their peace of mind. Some people just unfollow and defriend, while others go scorched earth on all of social media. Whatever your bubble, whether you’re worried about political correctness or want something more proactive thanstronger trigger warnings, I hope these extensions help keep your bubble unpopped.