Reality Check: The Upsides and Downsides of Filters

Even inanimate objects are not immune to the changes of time. My reminder of that came recently when I tried to listen to an old speech recorded on VHS tape.
Magnetic tapes deteriorate even when not used. Those words from long ago which I’m sure were inspirational are now garbled; barely intelligible.
As I can’t control further deterioration, I decided to write down as much of the speech as I could hear so I would at least preserve the message. I played and replayed the tape, but still could only make out bits and pieces. So I used audio software to try to make it clearer.
It’s easy enough to amplify sound, but that doesn’t necessarily make it more intelligible. As you know, talking louder doesn’t always contribute to better understanding.
So I applied filters in an attempt to reduce noise and sharpen the sound. As I changed filters, the output changed, varying from slightly garbled to completely unintelligible. The filters could both clarify and distort.
Ultimately, I was able to transcribe the gist of the recording and the incident gave me renewed appreciation for both hearing and filters. If you or someone you know has difficulty hearing, then you are familiar with the opportunities for misunderstanding that arise when we hear things differently.
Even without hearing difficulties, you and I may still come away with different understandings when we listen to the same words. One way to explain that is: We use different filters.
On the one hand, filters are a marvellous thing. They help us pay attention to what’s important while sorting out information that has no value for us.
For example, the radio is on. Your friend asks, “What was the traffic report?” If you had no travel plans, you may not have even heard it. Compare that to a day when traffic does matter to you; then the traffic information gets through your filter and you hear it.
Our filters have value, but just like the sound filters, they can also cause distortion. So it’s helpful to be aware of our filters.
For example, say you are looking for building advice. As many people will offer advice whether you want it or not, how do you filter out useful advice from the not-so-useful?
Perhaps you filter based on cost. “Free advice is no good; you get what you pay for.” That’s a filter. Another filter might be experience. “Jill has already built one of these; I’ll listen to her.”
Other filters could be age: “She’s too young to know,” or “He’s too old to know.” (Age filters work both ways, don’t they?)
Some might filter based on gender, such as, “I’m not taking advice from a man.” Or “She couldn’t possibly know.” Some folks may filter based on nationality, race, or other personal criteria, regardless of whether it’s relevant to the information that’s being sought.
We may filter based on whether the advice we’re getting corresponds to what we already believe to be true. That is, “It makes sense to us.”
An interesting filter is the company we keep—the friends we choose, the family we have, the work environment that surrounds us.
You may notice this if you move between urban and rural areas, for example. When we move to a different group, company, or culture, we sometimes learn that the beliefs and “common sense” that were prevalent in our old group are not at all shared by our new group.
If we want to assert some control over our filters, a good place to start would be to figure out what they are. Then, pay attention to how they influence the information we receive.
What filters do you use when you look for advice or information?

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