Isn’t it incredible that the Web has afforded us the ability to find any bit of information we desire? It’s all at our fingertips; at any given time, we are mere moments from having the answers we seek about just about anything. Not only that, but the social Web has given us an extra layer, one that has become so ingrained in our online world that it’s easy to miss – the culture of recommendation.

No longer do we have to waste precious seconds calling up Google, typing in keywords and browsing through countless search results. No, now we can just crowdsource everything we need! Want to know what movie you should see this weekend? Ask Facebook. What should you eat for dinner tonight? Yelp knows! Should you wear the pink sweater or the blue one? You don’t have to decide – you can just ask Twitter!

This doesn’t just happen when we crowdsource our lives. The culture of recommendation has permeated every aspect of our online existence. Ads appear on sites you surf based on your browsing history. Tools like GetGlue and even YouTube incorporate sophisticated recommendation engines that push content to you based on the things you like. Many people see this as a good thing. It’s the personalization of content, serving up the things the system thinks you’ll dig, and pointing out and making recommendations on what you should consume.

Recommendations may make the WWW go round, but at what point are we simply shutting down our own opinions in lieu of what everyone else thinks? Sure, I love to hear what my friends have to say about stuff as much as the next person, but is it possible that we’re taking the opinions of our friends too far? Are we losing sight of our own preferences, our own tastes, our own values, because we think everyone else knows better?

What happens when our online experience starts to become based solely on content that is fed to us because at some point previously, someone (or some computer program) thought we’d be interested and recommended it to us? At what point do we simply shut down our own desire to seek out new things, and just decide to be passively spoon-fed, much in the same way that mass media spoon fed us back in the old days?

It seems to me, that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

What say you?

[photo credit: scribbletaylor on Flickr]