(Back at it with the project notes! Just an FYI - the first portion of this post is focusing on the thought process and the second half features the resources.)
In the previous posts, we have covered Conceptual Art (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), the Ubiquitous issues of Communication (covering topics such as meaning, data, information, messages, misinformation, disinformation, fake news, facts, truth, and their role in social diffusion) and Design Activism. The only thing that we are missing is the framing of the project.
Therefore, the first step we need to take is to find the frame (context/area of focus), which will help us define the direction and the boundaries of the project. If we observe the themes which we have been exploring so far, we can identify in what area they all merge and overlap.
Ubiquitous Issues of Communication -> Truth, Ethics, Meaning -> Social Media
In the 21st century, it is to be expected that a Project that explores truth, ethics, and understanding will land itself in the digital realm. Especially, if we consider the fact that communication is now synonymous with Social Media and the online world. Admittedly, there has been a plethora of projects that try to tackle the Internet giants (and each year this number rises), but we cannot step away from this challenge just because we are not the first to pursue this topic. Additionally, we have to keep in mind that our approach will be different and unique in its own right. Furthermore, narrowing our project down to Social Media or the Digital world still leaves us with quite a broad frame as it includes everything from sociology, psychology, politics and identity politics, to surveillance, laws and policies, communication, ethics, etc. (There is way more to unpack as you can imagine.)
The next step is to generate a range of ideas for the project – What are we trying to communicate? To whom? And how? And perhaps most importantly, what questions do we want to have answered?
The contradictions might not read well (not click) for everyone.
It is too broad.
What makes the truth true?
Asking people on the street (the above-mentioned question) and collecting the answers. These would be then used to create a visual outcome.
Not feasible because of the current Lockdown situation and the scale of the project.
Saving this idea for another time.
What Social Media Looked like before the People came?
Fantasy take on the issue of Social Media.
You are the Media.
Re-assigning responsibility for the issues of the online world.
Why are you posting that?
Questioning the behaviour of users on Social Media.
After some consideration it became apparent that the last three ideas from our brainstorming process have something in common – they are parts of the same project but each one represents a different chapter. As a whole, they are exploring the behaviour and purpose of social media platforms and users.
The questions that come up in relation to the Digital world:
"Why are you here?"
A good amount of people are aware of the not-so-glamorous side of Social Media and yet they continue to use it.
The most logical answer would be, “I am here because everyone else is.”
Thanks to COVID Internet connection became a necessity for survival - jobs, education, finances, and other essentials for life are easily (or only) accessible online.
We arrived at a point where we cannot imagine that there could be an alternative.
"They let us watch - so it is only fair that they get to watch us too?"
Foucault’s theory of surveillance and self-regulation.
Some may say that they do not care about privacy issues because they have nothing to hide. However, that is not the point of the discussion.
Cookie consent pop-ups are not providing us with a fair choice. We tend to take the path of least resistance and therefore, we are giving away cookies like it is nobody’s business – allowing others to profit from our data. This is not just an issue with Cookies. There are also Tracking pixels (Web Beacons) - these are 1×1 pixel graphics that track web traffic, site conversions, user behaviour, and more at a site's server level.
Gathering data to improve services is not wrong but the way how it is currently done is.
Let’s say that this morning you decided to visit your local Café. Presumably, there were other people, who could see you (watch you), but they did not have any additional information about you, ie. they cannot use any of that information to influence your behaviour or otherwise profit from such knowledge – you were nothing but a backdrop to their life. Whereas the situation on the internet is something completely different.
Another example is that a Police officer must have a search warrant if they want to search your property (if they suspect you from a crime). Meanwhile, Amazon knows exactly what items you bought, when you bought them, which card you used, and to which address they were delivered. Alexa and Google have the details of all the things you have said, asked, and searched for. Your smartphone and smartwatch know precisely what time you get up and they know exactly where you are at any moment during the day… Admittedly, this is a very extreme example, but it is used only for demonstration purposes and perhaps for a little bit of shock factor.
With all this data one might wonder, "Does Data have an expiration date?"
"How valuable is the information you are sharing?"
As we have learned (in one of the previous posts) all forms of communication should have a purpose.
So how purposeful are the things we share and see online?
Is it worth our time and our resources?
"Is it true?"
The validity of information online, where anyone can contribute, is rather questionable. The concept of truth becomes even more ridiculous once we enter the depths of discussion forums, comment sections, etc. where each respondent has a unique take on 'what the truth is' with varying numbers of proof and evidence to support their conviction. The observer is left to decide whether they choose to believe or disapprove of the proposed claims, whether to get involved in an opinionated text-based war or to remain unmoved.
"If hate speech is banned, then what is truth speech?"
If you silence hate speech/misleading information – have you automatically defined the truth?
Who should have the right to do that and on what basis should the information be evaluated?
Is there a filter for truth?
What if algorithms were on our side?
Every second there is so much content flowing in that it is hard to imagine how we would be able to screen every single post for falsity, hate speech, etc. unless we use AI - and even that solution is not completely flawless.
In regard to how we express ourselves and whether we should be allowed to do so freely - then we can be sure that everyone desires freedom of speech, but if everyone exercised their own freedom to the extreme - it would be a hell on earth. Some things are just better left unsaid.
In many cases, the issue is not the fact that the individual is expressing their opinion rather it becomes an issue once we add in the fact that this message is magnified by the online communication channels - it becomes an issue of power. Some messages become louder than others and some individuals have a ready-made audience of millions of followers - people with such power have to/should take it into account before they hit the 'post' button.
"My freedom ends where yours begins."
"If everyone was held responsible for what they share would we be less likely to engage?"
What would it feel like to see a blank feed?
What if Social Media went quiet?
We are living in an age of individualism and it is becoming more and more difficult not to step on anybody's toes. Perhaps, remaining silent would be an option.
"What has Social Media become?"
Does it have more authority than it should?
"Why are we saying ‘it’ or ‘they’?"
Social Media, Apps, and Programmes were made by designers, programmers, and entrepreneurs (aka people), and these 'online spaces' are populated and used by people. There is no ‘it’ or ‘they’ to speak of. Just like when we refer to websites as if they were actual places, we visit - It is just our mind making simplified connections between reality and digitality, there is no ‘there’ there. It is just a screen and you are not moving anywhere.
This comes down to the fact that the language we use shapes how we think and feel – so the language we use when we speak about the Digital world has a big impact on how we rationalize it.
As we can see there are many questions which we simply cannot hope to answer in a single project. It is not our place to do that anyway, rather we should try to pass these questions on to the wider audience to make them think more critically about their own actions and the technology they use daily. But before we go any further, we have to establish our own list of certainties (our POV).
To preface this next section, we must acknowledge that this project began with the presumption that we (society) are to blame for the conflicts and issues that appear on our own news feeds. However, we cannot make such claims before we have thoroughly investigated the issue at hand. Therefore, we must rely on further research to gain more clarity – starting with the pros and cons of Social Media use.
It breaks down geographical barriers.
On a professional and personal level, it provides an opportunity to share information, promote oneself, and receive and give support.
Customers can give feedback efficiently.
Businesses can rapidly collect insights and respond accordingly.
Citizens can share advice and information with their local community.
to promote events, to help in the search for missing individuals, etc.
It is also a unique environment for academics because the digital space is filled with people from different backgrounds.
Place where everyone and anyone can contribute/learn.
It generates Big Data, which helps businesses to ensure that they are adding value and meeting goals.
Online communities offer a sense of belonging which (for some individuals) might be unattainable in real life.
Crowdfunding opportunities for Charities or Good Causes
(Dwivedi, et al. 2018)
As we shall see in the second part of this list most of the ‘pros’ can quite easily become ‘cons’. This only reinforces the fact that the digital world is a ‘space’ filled with tools and it is up to us how we use them (which applies to both individuals and the platforms themselves). A delicate balance is required to have a truly neutral space. However, whenever there is an option to gain more power or make profit people will try to achieve it by any means. For reference, Facebook’s mission statement begins by claiming its purpose which is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” (Facebook – Resources, s.d.) Understandably, it does not go on to state that their business model runs on personal data information where they use the data profiles of their users to match them with advertisers.
Emotions and Context are difficult to detect, comprehend, and convey. If there is no obvious context or tone people will make up their own.
This leads to Misunderstandings.
Anonymity –> a free pass on morality –> leads to unacceptable behaviour.
Re-Sharing something online does not elicit the same feelings of responsibility as if the content was made/said by the person himself/herself.
Sharing it ≠ Saying it
Cancel Culture tries to right this wrong by making people suffer the consequences (however, many sources argue that this movement has gone too far).
“Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favour of ideological conformity.” (Harper’s Magazine, 2020)
It eliminates boundaries. (private, public and professional sectors overlap)
„Self-presentation of professionals on social media can be likened to post-modern performances in which the traditional boundaries between actor and audience are intentionally unsettled.“ (Richey, et al. 2018)
Big Data might cause generalization(creates bias). This happens when we accept that there are certain people on certain platforms that say/do certain things as a fact.
Is their behaviour authentic or performative?
What about the rest?
This leads to Misrepresentations.
It is a tool that instigates and supports competitiveness.(both good and bad – do you remember the Tide Pod Challenge?)
The communication channels are always open. (Where is the on and off button?!)
Everything in nature (from animals and plants to the seasons of the year) has a certain rhythm. Should the system adapt to our nature or are we supposed to adapt to its 24/7 regime?
Time pressure (Everything and nothing is happening simultaneously - right now.)
A constant stream of content, where a good portion of the updates is rather meaningless.
Negative psychological consequences.
State of depressive hedonia – not an inability to get pleasure (anhedonia) rather an inability to do anything except pursue pleasure. There is a sense that something is constantly missing. (Fisher, 2009)
Living with a Status -> Consumers of Services.
It provides the means to threat public safety. (cybercrime, opportunities for terrorists)
The opposite = Internet surveillance (South Korea)
Loss of ownership and control over the content.
A shared culture where everyone owns everything, and no one owns anything. (ie. TikTok) (Wei, 2021)
A culture that is merely preserved -> is no culture at all. (Fisher, 2009)
Censorship of Art
Platforms restrict artistic 'graphic content' but endorse it from celebrities and influencers.
Shadowban allows Instagram to throw a dark cloak over large segments of its user base, making them tangibly invisible. (silencing minorities)(Dawson, 2020)
Ideologies, Extremism, and Fragmentation
Epistemic Bubbles are informational networks in which important sources have been excluded by omission, perhaps unintentionally. It is an impaired epistemic framework that lacks strong connectivity. Members within epistemic bubbles are unaware of significant information and reasoning. (Bright, 2016)
Echo chamber refers to situations in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system and insulated from rebuttal. It is an epistemic construct in which voices are actively excluded and discredited. It does not suffer from a lack of connectivity; rather it depends on manipulation of trust by methodically discrediting all outside sources. (Bright, 2016)
Both can be the reason for the escalation of ideologies within communities. However, this phenomenon is not limited to politics. For example, we could observe similar trends within Eating Disorder communities and their sites, hashtags, and blogs (pro-ana, pro-dia, thinspo, etc.). These keywords are now being closely monitored and continually suspended/deleted from most platforms.
“It is algorithms that may be tearing us apart. But maybe it's also algorithms that reassemble us, albeit in smaller unit sizes.” (Wei, 2021)
This list is just an extract from the plethora of issues that are attached to social media use and the digital world (which are also connected to capitalism and individualism). We also have to acknowledge that there is an extensive list of literature covering these topics. For our purposes we shall focus on the following resources:
The Body and the Screen: Theories of Internet Spectatorship
About the book: “Rethinking the interface: how the Internet/computer spectator is engaged, rendered, and regulated; theoretical models and case studies that range from text-based and graphical communication settings and women's webcams to male programmer's physical and psychic pain.” (White, 2006)
“Internet and computer spectatorship have an even more consequential effect on identification than do film and other media because the spectator spends significant amounts of time engaging with computers; computers and networks also appear in film, television, and print advertising; dream or trance-like experiences are often part of the engagement; the connection with characters and other representations can be intense; and there is an idea that the spectator is part of the setting, people are alive, and bodies are accessible through the Internet.” (White, 2006)
“Microsoft’s Internet Explorer offers the “go” menu, and its advertising campaign appears to directly address the spectator when asking, “Where do you want to go today?” Andrew L. Shapiro suggests that Microsoft’s motto places the individual at the center of the action. It asks you “where you will go, what you will do, with whom you will interact” and tries to convince spectators that they are in control while depriving them of options.” (White, 2006)
The Internet is like commercial television in that it “constantly addresses, appeals, implores, demands, wheedles, urges, and attempts to seduce the viewer.” (White, 2006)
“Foucault’s theory of surveillance and self-regulation has been applied to Internet settings even though the physical architecture, which he indicates is an aspect of this system, is not present. In Foucauldian considerations of Internet surveillance, the visibility of individual bodies within the panoptic structure is replaced by the consolidation of the individual’s records into a “data image,” search services that provide addresses and arrest details, aerial depictions that pinpoint home locations, “googling” to obtain personal facts, and cookies that record web usage. These Internet methods provide a vast amount of information, render an eerie feeling of being watched, suggest that the individual is ever see-able, and encourage people to regulate their behaviour. However, these methods of information retrieval do not place the body under visual surveillance even though they are associated with looking. MOOs also provide a great deal of information about characters, when the look and looking oriented commands are employed, but information about spectators is more difficult to determine.” (White, 2006)
Blog - Remains of the day
About the book: “The book analyses the development and principal features of this capitalist realism as a lived ideological framework. Using examples from politics, films, fiction, work, and education, it argues that capitalist realism colours all areas of contemporary experience. But it will also show that because of a number of inconsistencies and glitches internal to the capitalist reality program capitalism in fact is anything but realistic.” (Fischer, 2009)
In a capitalist realist system, expressions of opposition to the socio-political situation, from Nirvana to The Hunger Games, are always already transformed by the smooth logic of capitalism into its very products for sale. “Success only means failure, since to succeed would only mean that you were the new meat on which the system could feed.” (Fischer, 2009)
Children of Men parallels -> Nothing new can ever happen. How long can a culture persist without the new? What happens if the younger generation is no longer capable of producing surprises? (Fischer, 2009)
“Is there no alternative?” (Fischer, 2009)
Auto-surveillance – More time and energy is spent on the generation and messaging of representations rather than on the official goals of the work itself. (Fischer, 2009)
Marketization of education – students are the consumers and the product. (Fischer, 2009)
Additional resources to review:
Francis Fukuyama - Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (currently reading)
Adam Curtis Hypernormalisation ✓
2016, BBC Documentary
At the beginning there was this enthusiastic view of cyberspace - described as a place, "...where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity." The Cyberspace Manifesto, written by John Perry Barlow, also tells the Governments of the Industrial World to stay away from this 'space' as they have no power there. (A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, 1996)
Algorithms create self-agreeing bubbles on which the internet giants profit. These are places where you can only hear and see what you like or already agree with.
When it comes to politics any form of disagreement which can elicit strong emotions (anger) are the most profitable because "Angry people click more." Whether more clicks achieve anything (as in changing the outcome) is a different question.
The core thread of the documentary is Adam's narrative. He puts forward the ways how power brokers manipulate reality - serving the viewer with various fragments from the past, which are meant to form a larger (unfathomable) puzzle. However, David Jenkins, the editor for the Little White Lies magazine, points out that Curtis "uses smoke and mirrors to attack the smoke and mirrors. He offers the impression that he is reporting from the other side of the looking glass, a privileged position where the eccentric shifts of global power can be viewed with chilling clarity. Yet the way he presents his arguments suggests that he trades on the ignorance of his audience. He knows that as long as he frames himself in a position of authority, he can say anything he likes and we’ll swallow it whole." (full article)
Adam Curtis Can't get you out of my head - 2021, BBC Documentary Mini-Series, 6 Ep.
Bloodshed on Wolf Mountain ✓
The first part opens with a quote from an esteemed anthropologist David Graeber, “The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.”
(Bloodshed on Wolf Mountain - Screenshot)
Then we are once again exposed to a variety of obscure moments in history, which are masterfully threaded together using archive footage and recordings. Although, Curtis meanders through Britain to China, Russia, and America highlighting a range of facts he never makes a significant point - yet?
The themes that are explored in this episode are:
Hidden powers - Discordianism, Counterculture, Conspiracy Theories, the obscuration of truth by authorities, asking for the why behind events does not reveal the truth - instead we have to look for patterns.
Behaviour of the British Empire
Individualism - cases of Jiang Qing, Maya Plisetskaya, and Ethel Voynich.
Shooting and F**king are the Same Thing ✓
1960's - 70's
The themes that are explored in this episode are:
Racism, Corruption, Violance
Structures of Power
The Red Guards
Forces inside the human mind.
Psychologists claiming that "...human beings were really irrational and lived in a dream world. Out of that was going to come the modern system of power in which psychology would join with economics and with finance to make sure that the dream world was managed."
The stories of Jiang Qing, Afeni Shakur, Michael X, and German revolutionaries. They all have "...set out to try and confront their societies and change the structure of power. But all of them, in different ways, have unleashed violence that was lurking underneath those societies." "...and all of them have failed in their aims."
Money Changes Everything ✓
1970's - 80's
The themes that are explored in this episode are:
Climate Change, Coal Mines, Oil Industry, Conspiracy Theories, Power of Money
The dreams of changing the world are replaced by Money
Nixon closing the gold window
China develops its own version of controlled capitalism - enticing the rest of the world with insanely cheap goods (mass-consumerism)
Sackler selling drugs, first Valium, later a lighter form of opium - OxyContin
with the intention to profit from the deteriorating mental health of people living in the new individualistic culture, where "you were free and you were alone" - the drug was predominantly used by women.
From now on people are living in their dreams, and use money lend by the bank to create those dreams.
The stories of Richard Nixon, Jiang Qing, Arthur Sackler, Vladimir Kamarov, Eduard Limonov & Yelena Shchapova, Kerry Thornley
But What if the People are Stupid ✓
One world of free individuals who are free to save other individuals without bothering about borders, politics, etc.
Bernard Kouchner, Joan Beaz - rescuing refugees
Fight against the regime
Julia Grant - a transgender activist who had to go against the system (doctors and psychologists) to complete her transformation from male to female.
Power is mutating
Politicians are longer supported by large parties instead, they are relying on groups of individuals. Politicians no longer represent the majority. They switched sides and gave up being our representatives who would challenge the powerful on our behalf. Instead, they began to tell us what to do on behalf of the powerful.
China under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping
3 levels of truth distributed according to the level of power the individual possesses = 3 versions of newspapers
1978-1979, Democracy wall - a space where anyone was free to put up posters, poems, journals, or other literature (most of them demanded democracy).
"The Fifth Modernization: Democracy and Others" by Wei Jingsheng
Jiang Qing sentenced to death
Featuring Julia Grant, Bernard Kouchner, Joan Beaz, Jiang Qing, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Abraham Maslow, Danial Kahneman, Eduard Limonov, Boris Yeltsin,...
The Lordly Ones ✓
1991 Jiang Qing commits suicide
1997 death of Deng Xiaoping
A fake version of Britain
150 years ago Britain wrecked China by forcing opium on the country.
This was followed by the fear of revenge.
To protect itself a magical vision of Britain was invented by artists, poets, and writers. -> Dreamlike myths rooted in fear.
The intelligence agencies failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union.
Cecil Sharp - Folk at the heart of new British Nationalism (the concept was taken from German Nationalism) relying on the innocent rural people and their culture.
Rutland Boughton, The Immortal Hour, Opera -> 'The lordly ones'
Gertrude Bell -> Iraq -> creating an unstable society
American Exceptionalism, the vision of Woodrow Wilson
Instead severe depression and race riots.
Out of the fear came an organization, the Ku Klux Klan. They also believed in American Exceptionalism, but they turned it into something frightening and violent. They used it to protect themselves against the perceived threat of a growing black population.
Inspired by a movie, 'The Birth of a Nation' by D.W. Griffith
Retreating into a mythical version of the past.
CIA, dual state
interfering in foreign affairs (Coups)
Thanks to China, America became the biggest consumer. Securing the US in a dreamlike state detached from reality.
Arthur Sackler's company funds the development of a new drug - Oxycontin
Are We Pigeon? Or Are We Dancer? ✓
America, 1950 - The Family of Men, Exhibition
Photographs of people from all over the world.
Used as an alternative to the horrors of Nazism and Communism.
The message was simple, "We are all one world and at the center of that world is the individual self."
Herbert Bayer, a refugee from Germany, helped design it.
a utopian version of the self
(Are We Pigeon? Or Are We Dancer? - Screenshot)
Tupac Shakur (his mother - Afeni Shakur, a Black Panther)
He was part of the age of individualism.
Yet, he still believed in the power of grand stories to move people and to inspire them to change the world.
By the 1980's, it was clear that the promises of the civil rights movement have not been kept in America. The idealism of Black Politics fell away. -> Communities divided into gangs and turned on each other. Then crack swept through the black communities in America. Afeni Shakur found herself addicted - leaving Tupac alone.
Tupac set out to reawaken the Black Panthers, but "...less violent and more silent." with him as the central character.
Thug Life - trying to shift the anger of those gangs towards the ones who really oppressed them. But many became comfortable living in the fairy tale and they had no desire to start a real revolution.
1996 Tupac was shot and later died in the hospital.
Conspiracy theory = The crack epidemic was created by the CIA and the US government.
Since the 1970's, billions of dollars have flooded in from the west.
This created a dream-like society run by an elite, hiding a much grimmer reality -> "The money created a society where nobody believes in anything and nothing can be trusted."
New way of seeing the world in America came from engineers, scientists, and programmers.
Chaos Theory, the inherent unpredictability in the behaviour of a complex natural system.
Meaning that we cannot make any long-term predictions about the future and why all attempts at revolutions led to disasters. The world is too complex to be changed in a predictable way.
Although humans may never understand the complexity, computers could be used to see the hidden patterns and make the chaos manageable. -> Complexity Theory
Murray Gell-Mann, one of the main promoters of the new theory. He believed that there are patterns in everything (at every level of the universe - particles, human thinking, languages,...).
The hidden self
Psychologists now joined by Neuroscientists reveal that human beings have many hidden forms of the self, which the conscious mind has no awareness of.
Led by Michael Gazzaniga
The one self that is conscious constantly makes up stories to explain what all the other-selves are doing. It gives us the illusion that we are in control.
a group of idealists at the heart of Silicon Valley, who still believed that individuals could remake the world - by bypassing the old systems of power.
In the grips of venture capitalists who had invested in the company - Google had no other option than to figure out how to make money. That is when Google started selling data (data profiles of people - how they behave and predictions on how they will behave based on their search history and traces) to advertisers. Instead of a hit-and-miss, advertisers could now work with scientific certainty.
Google was gathering the data without anyone's permission. In 2001 a law was being put together that would stop this. However, because of 9/11 and the state of fear that it caused, the government passed the Patriot Act. It said that everyone's personal data must be open to examination, to stop further attacks.
Privacy became irrelevant in the face of security.
New Goldrush set up on mining all traces of human behaviour.
Roomba gathers data about the inside of people's homes.
We-Vibe also transmits data about people's behaviour.
Cayla the doll according to the German government contains a concealed espionage device.
Pokemon GÓ not only collecting data but also moving mass groups of people around
Neural Networks -> Artificial Intelligence
The key figure was a psychologist, Geoffrey Hinton
The great-great-grandson of George Boole, who had invented Boolean logic - that is behind algorithms in modern computers.
Instead of looking for meaning or following the rules of logic, AI looks for patterns. Therefore to teach AI you must feed it vast amounts of data so that it can find the necessary connections.
Hinton began working on AI at Google, and he gave it a different name, he called it Vector World.
China, Guiyang - Algorithmic Governance (surveillance). One of the aims was to adjust the behaviour of people - if the data showed that the individual is behaving well, then they would be given social credits as a reward. -> 50 years earlier B. F. Skinner, an American psychologist, outlined this exact society. Skinner had shown how he could easily alter the behaviour of animals, like pigeons by using a simple system of rewards - he called it Operant Conditioning.
Teamed up with psychologists, they have found a way to put hidden messages into people's news fees that would then create specific moods and feelings without the individuals being aware of it.
Psychologist's theories of priming, nudging fused with the power of technology. Manipulation could work on an industrial scale.
People were no longer sure if their feelings were true or made up. The suspicion and shock spread uncontrollably across the internet and it grew even stronger after Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. People assumed that others have fallen victim to the hidden manipulation and voted against their best interests. But at the same time, scientists disapproved the theory of priming - revealing that people might be far stronger than the scientists believed and cannot be that easily manipulated. But it was too late because once you believe you are being manipulated there is no way back. Even being told that you are not being manipulated might be manipulation and then we are lost in an endless conspiracy theory. What the hysteria really was - was a source of high arousal emotions that the machines needed. Newspapers and intelligence agencies, who would otherwise become obsolete, were saved by the mass of conspiracy theories generated by these events - they became heroic truth-tellers - revealing ever more hidden conspiracy theories.
Max Hawkings I let algorithms randomize my life for two years ✓
2017, TED Talk
Max, a former software engineer at Google, had a realization after he read a computer science research paper about predictive analytics, which essentially says that if you take someone's GPS trace (the places you go to over the course of a day) and feed it into a machine-learning algorithm, you can predict where they're going to be on the following day. Max saw this as a problem - if every single step he makes is predictable then what role does he play in his life?
When engineers come across problems they try to solve them. So naturally, Max decided to make an App that would randomize his life. The App selects where the user goes for the evening by looking at all the places on Google maps, choosing one at random, and then calling an Uber, which will take the user to the final destination.
The feeling of being dropped off in a completely foreign part of the city was addictive. So, Max started looking for different applications for this concept.
"I made a random YouTube video generator, a random schedule generator, a random diet club that would randomly eliminate a food from my diet each week. And it's cumulative, so eventually, you just can't eat. Random tattoo generator, a random Spotify playlist, random podcast, a printer that prints out random suggestions of things to do. A random Facebook event generator. And the way that this one works is that in a city like Vienna on a given day, there are hundreds of Facebook events -- public Facebook events -- that are going on. So it would choose one at random and say, this is your plan for tonight. And so I'd show up at events like Joe's birthday, the eighth-grade band recital, chess club, truck drivers school. And it was really interesting because these were communities that I knew nothing about but were having amazing events to talk about things that they cared about. And there I was."
He even ended up building an algorithm that decides where he lives based on his budget.
But how random are random generators? Well, there are still patterns.
"...if you think about it, every time you make a choice, you're not just making it on your own. You're selecting from a list, a menu of choices that was designed by someone or something else. And whatever freedom that you have in that choice is necessarily constrained by social structures, customs, and history that provide the context for that selection."
Max ends his TED Talk by addressing some of the larger issues we are facing, "...In the world that we're living in, there are a lot of real problems. And I think that these questions of algorithmic control play a lot into them. We're talking right now about the role that Facebook had in the American election. There are a lot of questions about the ways that these algorithms are controlling our lives. And so, I don't know, I don't know what I'm saying and I don't have, like, a very clear conclusion. But I would just encourage you to try to be experimental when it comes to interacting with these algorithms. Because if you just do the defaults, follow your preference, go in the direction that everything else is going, it's really easy to get caught in a place where you can be controlled. And I think that's it."
Shoshana Zuboff - The Age of Surveillance Capitalism
Guy Debord - The Society of the Spectacle
Stephen Wolfram - A New Kind of Science
Steve Grand - Creation: Life and How to Make It
David Foster Wallace - Infinite Jest
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