Perilous Tech

A blog focused on technology and social issues

You woke up this morning, sat up in bed and grabbed your device to … well … do just about anything. As soon as you opened it, you most likely ran into some form of content that was curated for you. Welcome to the Internet of you.

 

Do you know that your version of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and many others are different than somebody else’s?

 

Your version of the Internet has become a tailored experience, just for you. This creates some rather dangerous problems. This is content curation’s dark side. It can warp your sense of reality. I know what you think if it’s so prevalent then why haven’t you noticed it? This is because it’s all done in the background.

What is curated content?

Curated content isn’t something that’s hiding in dark corners of the web tempting you to click on it. You run into it every day. This is content fed by algorithms with the goal of keeping your attention and keeping you engaged. All your favorite sites are doing it.

 

It is content fed by algorithms with the goal of keeping your attention and keeping you engaged.

 

Google shows you tailored results, YouTube plays related videos, Pandora plays similar songs, and news aggregators give you more of the news that’s “relevant” to you. Social networks prioritize posts and content to cause more of a reaction from you. Quite often this is negative content since sensationalism usually wins over substance. These are just a few examples, but this concept is not isolated to these applications.

Why would a company do this? The longer you are engaged, the more revenue they get. More people congregating on one application means its more attractive for other businesses to advertise or purchase analytical data.

Dan Rather had a pretty good explanation that summed up content delivery in the past. If you were interested in the sport’s page, you’d have to buy a newspaper with headlines on the front page. With each flip, you went through multiple pages of other headlines just to get to the sports page. It was exposing you to other news and happenings of the world. This is not how it is nowadays, what you are looking for is presented to you without having to look anywhere.

Other viewpoints are a good thing, but for some reason, we have forgotten about this and became more entrenched in our own views.

Digital Brainwashing

You can’t blame the Illuminati or the HAARP system for this one, this is good old-fashioned capitalism. We are digitally brainwashing ourselves with the features of modern applications.

Here is something to keep in mind, cults of the past needed leaders and a controlled message to build a following. Today, this has shifted entirely. Many of the applications you use on a daily basis are all that is needed to create a cult of sorts. We are encouraged to join groups with like-minded people all over the world further amplifying potential misconceptions and distorting our worldview into our own bubble. This gets even worse when people are manipulated into joining these groups through some sort of malicious ad campaign.

 

We are encouraged to join groups with like-minded people all over the world further amplifying potential misconceptions and distorting our worldview into our own bubble.

 

Nowadays you can brainwash yourself all by your lonesome without having to even take any interaction. Welcome to next generation brainwashing.

Why is this content bad?

I lump the negatives into three general categories.

  • Unintended confirmation bias
  • Downward spiral
  • Manipulation

Unintended Confirmation Bias

 

You get a steady stream of content confirming your beliefs, with little information to the contrary.

 

Curation may seem innocuous at first glance and even beneficial in the case of helping you discover similar music artists, but the effect overall is damaging. This curation creates bubbles and microcosms with the perception of them being broader than they are. You get a steady stream of content confirming your beliefs, with little information to the contrary.

 

Everyone is getting a different version of the web, only in their version more people are agreeing with them.

 

As a society, we are slowly enclosing ourselves into bubbles and using our digital devices to do it. To someone trapped in one of these content loops, it can seem like there is no hope. That can have a tremendous effect on a person’s wellbeing.

The problem isn’t big misconceptions either, daily feeding of supporting viewpoints can be just as bad. This is how an already polarized view can become even more so, and minimal negative bias toward something can become a crusade.

The Downward Spiral

 

How can someone believe the earth is flat?

 

Look no further than the flat-earther movement for evidence of the downward spiral. Before the content curation of modern applications and increase social media usage, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes the earth is flat. I mean, after all, we have f**king pictures, from space. But when you specialize content for people, seemingly ordinary people can end up having strange viewpoints. This is for several reasons.

  • Professional looking, unscientific presentation

It’s easy to make presentations look professional and scientific even though the content is complete crap. (i.e., Just about every single conspiracy theory out there)

  • Open to conspiracy theories and fringe concepts

If you are already open to conspiracy theories and other fringe concepts, and you get bombarded with similar content over and over again instead of sane legit material that stands up to scientific scrutiny, then you come to distrust provable, rational explanations.

  • Respect over sanity

We are taught to respect people’s beliefs and opinions no matter how ridiculous they are. I think this is a big mistake and something we shouldn’t do. Now, I’m not talking about political viewpoints here or opinions on which direction to take the economy. What I’m talking about are things so blatantly irresponsible that it’s harmful. Like saying the earth is flat or that the Sandy Hook victims were child actors.

Here is video from a flat earth conference (which sold out by the way). If you watch this video, you see that some of the people came to their conclusion from watching related videos to conspiracy theories on YouTube.
How Average People Fall For The Flat-Earth Conspiracy

Manipulation

If you are entrenched in a viewpoint, then it can be somewhat effortless to get you to take some sort of action. This could take any form, but even the most innocuous could have consequences. In social media, this is manifested by clicking a link (Clickbait). People make money off of this, and ordinary people can be made to think ridiculous things. Just think of something like the Pizzagate conspiracy.

Here are some logistics to think about and how this manipulation can manifest.

 

Identify users susceptible to a particular message. Use advertising tools to identify similar users and purchase ads getting users to join groups with the message or controversial issue.

 

Identify users susceptible to a particular message. Use advertising tools to identify similar users and purchase ads getting users to join groups with the message or controversial issue. Once you have them in the group now, you have a captive audience to continue to deliver whatever message you want.

Who would have thought that in the great “information age” we would be more polarized, uninformed, and unsympathetic?

So What Now?

If you are looking for an easy button or some sort of opt-out, you won’t find it (as of right now that is). This is part of the problem, the web is now run on algorithms that operate as gatekeepers in the background. There is no screw it, I’m out button. For the most part, we are at the mercy of large tech companies to change the way they operate.

Some of the apps and websites you use may have preferences you can mess around with. These would be in privacy settings. You should definitely do that, but with many apps, they are just going to do.

Unfortunately, this means more work in a world where people already feel they don’t have enough time to do the things they want to do. Many people will just fall back in comfortably in their bubble. Always fact check, especially before reposting something and definitely before joining a group. Be sure that at the very least you aren’t being manipulated by a group or content. Don’t shy away from sites or news sources that have differing opinions than yours. Try to keep yourself honest.

Keep it analog. That’s right, curation algorithms can’t affect you in real life. I know, it’s tough for some of us who are introverted. But people can be entirely different in person than they are online.

Good luck and I hope you found this a bit eye-opening. I’m optimistic that things will change and be a bit more balanced at some point, but in the meantime, it’s up to us to keep ourselves honest.

Links

Eli Priser’s Ted Talk, Beware online “filter bubbles” is a great summary of the problem.

How Average People Fall For The Flat-Earth Conspiracy

 

How to Fix Facebook–Before it Fixes Us

Pizzagate conspiracy

 

 

Netflix was on some people’s social justice radar this week. The source was the following tweet.

Netflix_Twitter

Notice also that it has 406,331 likes by the way.

A majority of the offended people fell into two separate camps and surprisingly I didn’t notice much if any who were in both.

  • Privacy Issues
  • Making Fun of People

Let’s try to add a bit of sanity and sense around these two subjects.

Privacy Issues

People were saying that this tweet disclosed privacy issues and sensitive data is laughable. Nowhere in here does it name any specifics about individuals or any information that could be used to reveal specific subscribers.

On the other hand, the number of people that seemed shocked that Netflix knows what people watch and how many times is very odd to me. I mean, they recommend shows based on your viewing history and magically they have a list called Watch It Again.

If it does surprise you then I have some horrifying news for you, Delta knows how many flights you’ve taken, Amazon knows what you ordered, and your bank knows how much money you have. Now everybody panic!

Delta knows how many flights you’ve taken, Amazon knows what you ordered, and your bank knows how much money you have.

Cancellation

The cancellation reaction I find amusing. So, you find out that Netflix has what you refer to as “big brother superpowers” yet somehow you think they can’t tell if you are bluffing when you say you are canceling? You aren’t going to stop binge-watching that new season of whatever you are watching so just stop.

Making Fun People

There was also the argument that Netflix was making fun of people. In extreme cases, I saw people call this bullying. To think that this is bullying is beyond delusional. Bullying is purposeful, specific, and individual. Nothing like that was displayed here.

I think that we have gotten out of hand on this front. When people maximize situations like this, it minimizes impact when situations are truly egregious. The mass of people become desensitized which is a very dangerous situation. Never in my life have I seen so much false equivalency being used in everyday arguments with relation to these social subjects.

Here is something to keep in mind. There is a difference between poking fun at a situation and poking fun at individual people. Corporations aren’t people, buildings aren’t people, and situations aren’t people.

In typical fashion, when I looked at the people who were offended, not a single one of them were offended themselves. They were offended by the possibility that someone else may get offended. Welcome to one of the great social problems of our time. Nobody really got offended and nobody got hurt. Simple as that.

The Attempt

Creative people need to have the ability to attempt to be creative.

Creative people need to have the ability to attempt to be creative. You may not think it’s creative and the attempt may fail, but the attempt needs to be protected. What kind of a world would we live in if people never attempted to be creative because of the constant fear of BS social backlash? I can tell you, not a good one.

People need to stop making things about things they are not. Ask yourself this question, did Netflix intentionally post this tweet to hurt people? Of course not. They did it in an attempt to be funny and entertaining, guess what, it seemed to work. At a bare minimum as of a couple of days ago 406,331 people thought so.

Look no further than the Wendy’s Twitter account and their responses for some gold.

ToS, Data Misuse, and Policy

Now I will say a couple of people made the point that this may be a ToS, data misuse, or policy violation. On this front, it could be. I didn’t read the ToS (who does?). They may have even violated some internal policy that isn’t public. But honestly, this is an entirely different topic than the previous two issues which was the focus of the outrage.

Think Before

All I ask is that people think before they get offended either themselves and especially by proxy for someone else. We don’t want to desensitize the masses; we need them on our side for the real social battles. Ask yourself, did the offending party do it to hurt anyone? If not, and the act isn’t egregious, cut them some slack. These people are hardworking people just like you.

Positivity: Just as Toxic as Negativity

Are you a person who’s decided to cut toxic people out of your life? Maybe to you, that means you go on to Facebook and just delete the people that post stuff you don’t like. Regardless of your meaning, I’m pretty sure that 100% of the time this is removing people viewed as negative.

I’d like to challenge your thoughts on this and add that positivity can be just as toxic as negativity. Don’t believe me? Well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

Not a day goes by where I don’t see people giving others a hard time for not being positive. These accusations can lead the person who isn’t overly positive to think somethings wrong with them. Well, there isn’t anything wrong with them. Here’s a dose of reality, positivity and self-esteem have never solved a single problem. Not a single one, so don’t feel bad if you don’t walk around this world with positivity dust flying off your wings.

Warning: Let me add that the focus of this post has to do with professional and creative circles. Family and close personal friends are a tricky subject and often aren’t so cut and dry. So use your best judgment in these cases.

Negativity Gets A Bad Rap

Negativity gets a bad rap these days. Well, not negativity in the traditional sense, but what people perceive as negativity nowadays. Negativity has become everything from indifference to just about anything that isn’t morbidly high levels of positivity. This applies to people who may be skeptical, questioning, or even just want to do a bit more research.

I love knowing how things work. I study many different subjects just because I’m interested in them. If someone suggests I do something differently, I like to know how that’s more beneficial than what I’m doing now. So I may ask questions. It doesn’t mean I think they are stupid or their approach to something is wrong. I’m genuinely curious and as such open to new ideas. I have no problem changing my mind in the face of fresh evidence. This concept may seem like common sense, but to many questioning is a form of negativity.

Constructive criticism is dead.

Constructive criticism is dead. Done, Done, Donesky. Criticism in any form nowadays is considered negative. Viewing this constructive criticism play out in creative circles can be hilarious as people take simple, unimportant things personally.

These days when people ask for feedback, it’s to look for validation of their work, not for any criticism whatsoever. Any feedback that doesn’t line up with expectations is viewed as someone being a hater. It’s easy enough to discount opinions in specific areas especially artistic cones. Art is subjective, so even if you farted in a mason jar and sold it on eBay maybe some weirdo would buy it (there are a lot of strange people out there), but you are delusional to think that somehow you are going to achieve any mainstream success. To the best of my knowledge Christie’s has never auctioned off a fart, however, if I’m wrong, I’m happy to be challenged on it.

Do you want to get better at what you do? Don’t cut out all of the haters or people you view as negative. Just don’t surround yourself with them. They may have valid points in their feedback, and you just may not care for their delivery style.

Inspirational Quotes

G8ig4X0

I love this because it’s so true. Successful people are too busy … well … being successful to sit around sharing inspirational quotes. If they are sharing inspirational quotes, then they are selling something and have some agenda.

You may point to someone and say well, here is an exception to the rule. Eh … maybe. A little look below the surface may reveal that person is not as successful as you may think. Their outward facade may completely fall away with just one tiny crack. After all, everyone is honest and truthful on social media, right?

Positivity Has Set You Back

Achieving success in this world isn’t merely a measure of the level of want and amount of work.

Your parents lied to you. You can’t be anything you want so sorry if I am just now breaking this to you. Achieving success in this world isn’t merely a measure of the level of want and amount of work. It doesn’t work that way. Once again, anyone who says different is selling something. Hell, you can even add natural talent to the mix and success is still is not a given. It can be downright terrifying when you think of the sheer luck that may be required on top of everything else for you to be successful depending on your field of endeavor.

So where does positivity fit into all of this?

High levels of positivity and self-esteem give you an entitlement and put you at a disadvantage. You may not think about it that way, but subconsciously this is toxic to your success. It grants you a justification to write off aspects of your approach, risks, as well as failures. People with high levels of positivity and self-esteem are more narcissistic and get defensive when anything challenges their beliefs.

Thinking positively lets you off the hook, it means when something gets hard instead of planning for it you think positively instead. Leaving certain aspects that could be accounted for up to chance. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.

People with high levels of positivity and self-esteem also will often take things that aren’t even about them or have nothing to do with them as a personal attack. After all, regardless of what you are talking about it must be about them in some way. Right?

Positive People Around You

Surrounding yourself with people who are overly positive is toxic because many people who exude this positivity aren’t being real with you. They are telling you what you want to hear because, hey, that’s what being positive is all about.

Look no further than aging rock stars who surround themselves with people that tell them everything they do is incredible. They end up torturing the world with some complete crap they created, but everyone around them is reaffirming how wonderful it is.

The Never Settle Mindset

We’ve come to hear this so often that it has become ingrained in our psyche. But why not settle? Maybe setting in a spot is exactly where you need to be. Perhaps it’s best for you and everyone involved. A massive problem in our society today is everyone is so ingrained in their positions that they aren’t willing to listen to anyone else. This is not a good path for a productive way forward.

Silver Lining

Here’s the silver lining, you can be optimistic and upbeat without thinking positively. That is the right balance.

Be Real

People love rags to riches stories. So-in-so quit their job and took a chance. They were living the street and now they are worth millions of dollars. The story of Jewel is another one that used to be talked about in musical circles. She was homeless living in her car at one point. She went on to be a star. In each of those situations, there was always luck playing a part. Jewel was discovered playing in a coffee shop. Now, imagine if the singer of the band Rust didn’t like coffee.

If you think real instead of positive then that means you are better prepared for whatever challenges come your way.

If you think real instead of positive then that means you are better prepared for whatever challenges come your way. The roads of the past have been paved over many times and may shoot off in other directions now. What worked for someone in the past may not work in the future. It takes a sense of awareness to see these new paths to the destination you want to get to.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take chances or go for it. Quite the opposite, if you are being real then your chances will have far more accounted for. To go back to Jewel, she was playing that coffee shop because she was out there grinding it out. If you don’t do anything, then absolutely nothing will ever happen. But if you need to use positivity to talk yourself into a risk, then you most likely haven’t done your homework. Your chances of success will go down significantly. But hey, at least you’re positive about it.

Finally

Here is a little ray of sunshine for everyone, hope and optimism are two words that haven’t been perverted by the implications surrounding positivity. Be hopeful and optimistic about your endeavors, but be realistic about the work and feedback you receive. Get excited because you are now ready to take that step, whatever it may be.

Don’t surround yourself with overly positive people and expect them to be real with you. It’s not going to happen, and you aren’t going to grow. If you need them, then don’t forget to sprinkle a few “haters” in there as well. It will keep you honest.

If you are still a true believer in the power of sheer positivity, then go ahead and write this post off. Take it personally like I am talking directly about you and write me off as a hater. Surround yourself with people who aren’t real with you and never challenge yourself. Let’s see how far that takes you.