Filters rule the world. Not only the world in some abstract or general way but your immediate world as well. We all put filters in front of us — either voluntarily or imposed by others — without even knowing it. This is further exacerbated by the ever-growing abundance of goods and services.
Pre and Post filters
With the internet dominating every facet of our lives, we suddenly had access to every kind of niche interest or obsession of ours. In the past, there were single large entities responsible for distribution while being restricted by the limitation of physical space, versus now that there is no such limitation. We are now free from the “tyranny of shelf space”. This was illustrated in great detail in Chris Anderson’s book The longer long tail.
In the book, he talks about how the means of distribution and discoverability have massively expanded the availability of goods and services to every niche out there. There is no longer a need to have a single entity dictating what is worth releasing to the public, acting more like thought leaders than a simple middleman.
While the theory behind the long tail concept makes perfect sense, the way to achieve it is not so evident. With the internet going mainstream, probably the biggest innovation was the application of the search engine. And that is the backbone of the long tail. Like a search engine scouts the internet, cut’s through the noise, and delivers the thing we are searching for, likewise, all the niche products and subjects depend on this in order to be found. In a general way, without filters like search engines, everything in the long tail is just noise and chaos, impossible to decipher.
Chris Anderson distinguishes the above phenomenon into pre-filters and post-filters. The single entity, call it a magazine, record label, book store or radio station is acting more like a pre-filter, meaning the filtering of what you get is done before the release. It was done for you, without your consent. A post-filter would be something like the internet that makes everything available, no matter how niche or weird it is, letting the market and the people decide what is good for them.
In an interview, Frank Zappa talked about how the music industry was in better shape when record labels were run by money-driven people, with suits and cigars than hippies with a taste that knew better than the average listener. This phenomenon is closely tied with the ‘pre’ and ‘post’ filters we talked about earlier.
The hippies with taste acted like a pre-filter, that decides what went for production and eventually what would reach the public. They were gatekeepers, in a sense, acting for the listener’s best interest. On the other hand, the money-driven cigar holders would let anything go –including junk – for the sole purpose of expected profit. The more they pushed to production and released, the higher the chances of something becoming a hit, hence making lots of ‘green’. They assign the market to be in charge of that while letting post-filters do the work.
All that is good. No matter how weird our taste in music or books is, we can find them. And not only that but find like-minded people. Lots of them. All this while forming communities online and finding trends rise and fall within a niche. ‘Mainstream in a niche bubble’.
Although great this brought another problem. Back in the day, we had a scarcity problem, meaning there were not enough different opinions and tastes and niches. We didn’t have enough information about a niche. Back in the day although it was hard to find your niche, maybe a recommendation from a friend, there was limited information, thus better digested, due to scarcity.
Now we have a problem of abundance. We found our niche, we found our people. More people means more information to share and consume. Suddenly your niche became’s huge. So hence the need for a second personal filter that sits on top of the existing ones.
One pre-personal filter that we put on ourselves unconsciously is authority figures. We see these influencers being productive and looking that they are crushing it every day and hesitate to form our own opinions. Now the border of pre and post-filters seems to broaden, making it more difficult to see it.
Another pre-personal filter is our own biases. We don’t and often can’t listen to things we don’t agree with and have the tendency to hear and read with what we agree. Although this is a defense mechanism, it is not very helpful, sabotaging us most of the time.
One post personal filter could be the following. Take in anything you read or hear without resistants and flush out what is not important. Even in a niche field, there could be noise since niche people are more likely to be more obsessed with crazy detail. Accept the detail but focus on what you do. You don’t need to know everything. Embrace and value your ignorance. Like Zappa’s money-driven people, with suits and cigars letting the market decide what sells, you flush out what you take in and what remains shapes our word. How we find this is not easy per se but there must be some kind of proof of interest.
We put a personal filter on things either we want to or not. These pre and post-filters rule and shape our world. We put them in ourselves first and then they work by themselves on autopilot. You set them up once and they last a lifetime if you don’t consciously make an effort to re-program them.