Question the algorithms

david-werbrouck-304966
Photo by David Werbrouck

It is a canard to think that math can’t fail. All you need to do is look at the way society constructs algorithms – from job and college applications to Facebook feeds to find out that sorting can be wrong and biased.

In the case of the 2016 election, algorithms did more harm than good. Facebook fed the internet silos with fake news. As Cathy O’Neil author of Weapons of Math Destruction puts it in a 99% Invisible podcast: “The internet is a propaganda machine.”

We’ve adopted the factory mindset of mass-sorting, leaving the anxiety of decision-making up to machines. Humans are pieces of data, waiting to be organized by the least valuable candidate or customer.

There’s too many of us and not enough time to make individual considerations. But a conversation around algorithmic frailty might do us some good. Making generalizations impedes the magic of a discovering an outlier.

Advertisements

Stuck in a state of perpetual refresh 🔄

via giphy

The newest app, the latest iPhone — we make an excuse to spend more time with our smartphones. What can be perceived as self-absorption is also hypnosis, as the phone’s rectangular glow grips us into a ludic loop.

Social networks intend to get us out of a trance and sting us into experiencing the world; at least that’s what Instagram and Pinterest promised to do at their inception. Instead, our phones have our first, second, and third eye, recording memories so we can consume and forget about them again later. We are walking zombies, skilled without an iota of consciousness.


The smartphone is an arsenal of distraction, a computer, tv, stereo, and communications device propping up the thumbs of our hands. But it’s also the most liberating tool we’ve ever had. Used wisely, we can shape it to goad our curiosity, make new friends, and explore our creative instincts.

via giphy

 

‘The real world is an escape from the internet.’

via giphy

Social networks are specifically designed to keep us hooked as long as possible. No matter how aware we are of the entrapment, the exit door never tempts us enough to permanently leave.

Yet we ‘users’ are literally the ones being used and tracked so big brother can sell our data to advertisers. We permit cookies to follow our behavior all over the web, from shopping to googling health related issues.


While the internet offers us a marketplace of ideas, instead we find ourselves collecting resources and stealing other people’s opinions to reconfirm our own.

Rather than tapping into a common goodness of those who disagree with us, we pat the backs and converse with those who serve us their boilerplate bullshit.

Stuck in boxes, spied on and taxed, it’s no wonder the internet makes us so antsy we can’t get along. Writer Noah Smith puts it best: “15 years ago, the internet was an escape from the real world. Now, the real world is an escape from the internet.”

This is the place 

Photo by Lin Zhizhao

Social networks are unique places. They are no different than hangout spots; the bar and the coffee shop each contains its own set of memes and culture. However, using the same language from one into the other could make you look like a tourist.

“One user’s home platform is another’s foreign land. A point made by a subculture at home on Facebook might look funny to another on Twitter, which can read as evidence of a conspiracy to yet another on YouTube, which might be seen as offensive on Tumblr, which could be a joke on Reddit.”


Knowing the ins and outs of each channel comes with frequent use. And while most sharing is trial and error — virality is mostly luck — replicating content between environments is a bound to fall flat. Posting a witty tweet makes no sense in the feed of a Facebook friend who’s looking for something with sticky emotional value.

The old adage rings true: the medium is the message.

Good social media contributors are tweakers. They tailor a message to each network to maximize engagement, down to the file type. They may upload an image to Instagram but a similar video version to Facebook and Twitter, and a GIF for Reddit.

Social media is still the Wild West. You must pick and choose an audience carefully or risk being misunderstood, which happens to most people anyway, even on their own turf.

Photos consumed and forgotten

DP262488.jpg
Photo by John Warwick Brooke (1916) :: The MET

Photos get consumed and are promptly forgotten, not because the image doesn’t stick — it’s impossible to ignore the ‘facticity‘ of a picture — but because it’s erased by the next one.

In the age of Instagram, images are fodder for boredom. Scrolling fills time, inspiring an emotion and quick dopamine shot for the same time the viewer consumes it. And then we shift back to reality, looking at the world like running images on a wall.

Photography tempts the eyeballs to glance but when will it do something other than staring at its contents.

Hooked on Facebook

via giphy

The only threat to the longevity of Facebook is that it makes people feel like shit.

Facebook’s relationship with its users, the product, is deeply psychological. It wants us to post whatever want, but all we end up doing is comparing our lives to other people in our own cocoons. We are ambiently aware of what everyone in our feed is doing.

The internet is a vast space of potential connectedness yet our relationships are usually with like-minded people. Our ideological bunkers reconfirm our beliefs, whether the content is real or fake.

giphy (4)
via A.L. Crego

The benefit of connectedness is proximity at scale — we can chat with a friend from the couch while Facebook surrounds us with ads like we’re standing in the middle of Times Square. Facebook is surveillance, and we give Big Brother the benefit of the doubt in selling our information to marketers in exchange for the ease of communication with so-called ‘friends.’

Facebook wants us to present our best selves online. It could care less about authenticity since it is our curated selves generate clicks and thereby give Facebook Ads a chance to make more money.

Facebook purports to be to the social network that upholds your real identity but its attention-based algorithm is psychologically damaging. The platform profits from fantasy, loneliness, and mimetic desire. Facebook persuades us to live the life we don’t want, thereby infringing on the personal liberty of making decisions that are key to our heart. Impressing others drains the soul of what we really want to do: express our uniqueness.

Facebook is the world’s biggest copy machine. It tries to box us in and disregard the person we really want to be. We are hooked on to its expectations of conformity and insularity.

Read You Are The Product

Working against attention residue

giphy (2).gif
gif via The Daily Dot

Going to work to answer emails won’t make you a better emailer, just as another five minutes on Twitter won’t improve your social networking game. Email, Twitter, and incoming messages drain our cognitive fitness.

Continuous partial attention fragments our mind and impedes deep thought, which is at the core of doing meaningful work.

How are we alive if all we do is process tasks?

Digital knowledge work seems to be typing into little boxes all day. We confuse distraction with busyness.

If we are the CEO of us, perhaps we need better focus engines to keep our eyes on the donut and not the donut hole.

Listen to You 2.0: The Value Of ‘Deep Work’ In An Age Of Distraction

516qDWM73AL

The looking glass self: “I am who I think you think I am.” 🔎🙍

giphy (88).gif

Identities are social. But not necessarily in the construct of how we or others see us but how we think others perceive us. External reflection is what philosopher and sociologist Charles Horton Cooley called ‘The Looking Glass Self’ theory.

“I imagine your mind, and especially what your mind thinks about my mind, and what your mind thinks about what my mind thinks about your mind.”

So who am I, We, YOU, Us?

It was only six hundred years ago with the ownership of mirrors did we see ourselves as unique. Today, we have front-facing cameras so we can curate an edited version of real life.

Mirror in, mirror out. “I am who I think you think I am.” Be whoever you are, and much more.

Measuring our social media clout

giphy (36)
via giphy

It doesn’t matter whether the engagement comes from bots or real people: Followers inflate our ego. Likes boost our self-esteem.

Social influence is a game of numbers. The more followers and interactions we get, the more credible we appear. Popularity promises self-worth.

But fighting for fame provokes a “potent cocktail of comparison for anxious people,” writes Laura Turner in The Atlantic.

“Twitter is a megaphone for achievements and a magnifying glass for insecurities, and when you start comparing your insecurities with another person’s achievements, it’s a recipe for anxiety.”

The entire social networking system is a jealousy-ridden machine where the most-followed have more say, despite the trifling nature of their content.

Online clout is the thief of joy.

Yet, while we continually compare ourselves to other people, social media compels us to try harder. With the right attitude, social networking can force us to pick up our game so that we can show the world what actually matters.

As much as the internet flattens the playing field and caters to niches, it is a barometer for judging the seriousness of our work. The social web is not all “artifice and spin.” Some people still want to make a difference. Connecting online can bring their dreams one step closer to reality.

There are many people who use their own media platforms to be the different one; to make a difference. Making connections online can bring our dreams one step closer to reality.

Don’t confuse social media with your diary

via giphy

Authenticity is the bread and butter of developing an attractive online persona. People relate to users that share bits of their personal lives.

But a lot of people confuse social media with their diary. The viewer cringes at over-admissions of vulnerability. Too much info!

What followers want are real stories, not overly planned content, digital manipulation, sympathy-provoking posts, and canned responses.

“Use your blog to connect. Use it as you. Don’t “network” or “promote.” Just talk.”

Neil Gaiman

The world already has enough actors and curated lives that entertain and inspire. It’s a relief to see people that act off-screen like they do offline.

Taking an inner evaluation

 

D28CE051-8628-4AA6-8F7F-3226D968549D.jpg
Photo by Wells Baum

 

We communicate through smartphones incessantly because we can’t stand the thought of talking to ourselves. We reserve all our inner chatter for an outer narrative.  Technology critic Sven Birkerts wrote in his 1994 book The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age:

Everything in contemporary society discourages interiority. More and more of our exchanges take place via circuits, and in their very nature those interactions are such as to keep us hovering in the virtual now, a place away from ourselves.

On top of this, we hire and create our own bots to inflate our ego. The President is perhaps the most guilty of this.

Social media is a chaotic popularity contest where we forfeit authenticity and opt instead for the curated life. We keep our ailments offline, with exception to Google where we always admit our fears. Anyone who shares anything is considered an extrovert by default.

Anyone who shares anything online is viewed as an extrovert by default. In fact, inwardness is the impetus for even more sharing. We replace loneliness with tweets and Instagrams to get others to confirm that we exist.

The second we put the phone away boredom and loneliness strike us hard. The best we can do is embrace these moments to remind what was, a knowledge of self.

 

All the internet’s a stage

via giphy

We can all assume that a social media persona is different than that in real life. Writes Jonathan Crossfield in Chief Content Officer Magazine: “Strategy or no strategy, all social media is artifice and spin.”

No one is going to post in public what they Google in private. We’d rather tweet about golfing than revealing a Saturday afternoon doing the dishes.

We curate our avatars, acting like celebrities and influencers to build up our personal brands.

If Instagram and Twitter present an edited version of real life, reality reveals half the digital truth.


We create the appearance of authenticity online.

We invent polished experiences so we can share them. We manipulate the public microphone to project the best self, even if that five-second clip is ephemeral and disappears.

All the internet’s a stage. As online entertainers, it is no surprise that we often fail to live up to the shinier version of ourselves offline. We set the bar too high like the movies, leaving nonfiction in doubt.


This is my daily collection of interesting reads and new music. I spend a lot of time digging the web for cool stuff and remixing them here. If you dig the blog, please consider making a donation or buying a book. A cup of coffee to helping out with hosting goes a long way.

Donate with PayPal

ORGANIC

How status and likability affect your health 

gif via Tony Babel

Popular people live longer.

As social animals, the number of friends predetermines our well-being, all the way down to modifying our DNA.

Loners may pass away sooner, but it’s not a matter of popularity. The number of people we know means nothing if they don’t actually like us back. There’s return on relationships.

Think back to high school: were you amiable or sworn to attention?

The same question applies to our behavior online. It’s rare to have both status — millions of followers — and likability. And the difference between the two is subtle.

Explains UNC psychology professor and author of the forthcoming book Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World:

“Likability is markedly different from status — an ultimately less satisfying form of popularity that reflects visibility, influence, power, and prestige. Status can be quantified by social media followers; likability cannot.”

Trump has thirty million Twitter followers, a majority of which follow him to see what the lightning rod of criticism says next. Both the attention and scorn make him miserable. If you’re looking for happiness in the credibility of numbers, social media may be the wrong game to play.

Happiness is tied to likeability, not our number of followers. If we want to extend our lives, it pays to be both well-known and well-liked. Hint: try to be nice to people, share upfront, and don’t be surprised if they remember your name.

Newsletter: How to stretch out your weekends, why both focus and unfocus are vital, new tunes from Buddy and more

264943
Man Sitting on a Boat Albertus H. Baldwin (1865–1935) : The MET

Arts and Culture

David Sedaris On The Life-Altering And Mundane Pages Of His Old Diaries

In this interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, American humorist and comedian David Sedaris reflects on the rough diary entries that became his new book Theft by Finding and why he always wanted to be a successful writer.

A lot of people don’t know what they want, or they’re just kind of vague about it. I was never vague. I knew exactly what I wanted. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to get it, but it’s scary … because what if that doesn’t happen?

npr.org

Why Are Doughnut Boxes Pink?

Yesterday was #NationalDonutDay. Here’s the history on donuts in one GIF. But you know those brassy looking pink donut bags at high-end bakeries? It’s a marketing gimmick; a trigger for emotions. It’s no surprise that they’re a product of LA.

“How the pink box has persevered so long may be about more than just dollars and cents. Experts say the color triggers an emotional connection to sweetness that makes doughnuts more irresistible than they already are…Anytime you see a movie or sitcom set in New York and a pink doughnut box appears, you know it obviously took place in L.A.”

latimes.com

Philosophy and Productivity

Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus

We try too hard to find the perfect formula behind productivity. What if the brain prefers to multitask, toggling between focus and unfocus?

In keeping with recent research, both focus and unfocus are vital. The brain operates optimally when it toggles between focus and unfocus, allowing you to develop resilience, enhance creativity, and make better decisions too.

hbr.org

The Secret to Making Your Weekends Feel Longer

If you want to stretch time, experience something new on the weekends. Break up the time with simple excursions. For instance, go play your Nintendo Switch in the park rather than from the couch. Read and write somewhere else other than your study desk or favorite cafe.

“According to David Eagleman, professor at Stanford University and the author of The Brain: The Story of You, pursuing new settings, new activities, and new experiences is the best way to “stretch time,” so to speak. It all comes down to what your brain perceives as novel. When you spend time doing something unfamiliar, your brain focuses more on collecting the data associated with the activity, thus creating a more thorough memory of the experience. When you reflect on that memory, it feels like you had more time.”

lifehacker.com

Social Media & Technology

Fuck Facebook

The love-hate relationship with Facebook continues, at least for hardcore bloggers Dave Winer and John Gruber, who explain why Facebook is “all-out attack on the open web.”

Treat Facebook as the private walled garden that it is. If you want something to be publicly accessible, post it to a real blog on any platform that embraces the real web, the open one.

daringfireball.net

More addictive: Fidget spinners or smartphones?

While we’re at it, fuck fidget spinners too. I put together a roundup of some of the best illustrations reflecting the obsession with both widgets.

wellsbaum.blog 

Digging in the Crates

18579531_1543551732344845_7950047605210218496_n (1)

Compton-based rapper Buddy is back with some beats and rhymes on the 5-track EP entitled Ocean & Montana, a collaboration with Canadian producer Kaytranada.

Listen

616548_10151526215719167_1638815295_o

Shugo Tokumaru is a Japanese singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. He’s basically a one-man show.

Listen

Quote of the week

“Until the age of 70, nothing I drew was worthy of notice. At 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive.”

Katsushika Hokusai


For more interesting reads and new music, follow along on Instagram, Facebook, or the Twitter feed. You can also subscribe to the blogs: wellsbaum.blog and bombtune.comIf you dig the blogs and want to support them, make a donation, buy a book, or email this post to a friend.

Photography and non-intervention

An Assassination
Image © AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici

Wrote Susan Sontag in her seminal book On Photography:

Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention. Part of the horror of such memorable coups of contemporary photojournalism as the pictures of a Vietnamese bonze reaching for the gasoline can, of a Bengali guerrilla in the act of bayoneting a trussed-up collaborator, comes from the awareness of how plausible it has become, in situations where the photographer has the choice between a photograph and a life, to choose the photograph. The person who intervenes cannot record; the person who is recording cannot intervene.

A lot of photographers take heat for capturing their subjects in life-threatening situations. Shouldn’t they be doing something to help the situation rather than documenting its demise?

Photographers are journalists too. Without their pictures, we can’t relive the event. They’re doing their job.

The main gripe with most witness photography is with the amafessional, who like any other citizen journalist has a camera phone in their pocket. Except, we see too often prioritize the camera over what should be the human instinct to assist.

This man filmed a fatal car crash instead of helping. Then, Ohio police arrested him.

‘There was no way I could have saved him’: Photographer claims he was too far away to pull ‘doomed’ subway rider off train tracks

Photography can be an act of selfishness, especially when the object is suffering.

To take a picture is to have an interest in things as they are, in the status quo remaining unchanged (at least for as long as it takes to get a “good” picture), to be in complicity with whatever makes a subject interesting, worth photographing —including, when that is the interest, another person’s pain or misfortune.

Social networks compel people to see. People go on vacation just so they can share pictures to their Instagram feed. Any museum that bars photography is somehow instantly boring. Remove Instagram, and the world becomes a lot less interesting for most folks.

The photographer’s role in emergency situations is complicated. When participation is voluntary, the camera offers a way to do something rather than nothing. The viewer’s discretion says a lot about their moral priorities.