The sorcery of screens

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The internet never ends. Mountains of content are piling up as we speak.

The hook is neither in our control or that of technology. We pull the lever, the slot machine spits out a variable reward.

It’s impossible to disentangle ourselves from the mindlessness of a ludic loop. With more data, the machine grows smarter and more manipulative.

But we can’t fault our own blindness, zombie scrolling in the sorcery of screens.

All the while, the trees are abundant, pumping oxygen into nature and encouraging humans to rejoin the broken.

Tethered to the magic of screens, we feed the data distilleries with our oil and reap cheap entertainment pellets in return. There is no quid pro quo. We are competent and conscious only in our dreams, awaiting that return to an archaic form of life.

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ORCAA, a logo to certify organic algorithms

“The internet is a propaganda machine,” writes author Cathy O’Neil in her book Weapons of Math Destruction where she criticizes the algorithms which have come to disrupt society and politics.

Her latest project ORCAA, O’Neil Risk Consulting and Algorithmic Auditing, offers services to companies that promise to maintain a more honest algorithm that unlike Facebook, doesn’t sacrifice private data to maximize revenue.

“People don’t really check that things are working,” she tell Fast Company. “They don’t even know how to ask the question.”

For the logo, Cathy O’Neil requested the designer Katie Falkenberg make it look “fat and fierce.” I think they just about nailed it.

Right now, the seal is a simple ring design with ORCAA’s killer whale logo and text that reads, “Algorithm audited for accuracy, bias, and fairness,” with the date. Falkenberg hopes to one day update it so it gets timestamped from the date it’s uploaded to a company’s website. Because algorithms are constantly changing, Falkenberg wants the seal to let users know when an algorithm was last certified. O’Neil says algorithms should be regularly audited–perhaps once every two years or so, depending on the complexity of the code. Falkenberg also hopes to link the seal to O’Neil’s website so users can understand exactly what it means when they see it.

Question the algorithms

Visualizing social media reality through 3D art

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Ubiquitous and abundant, social media companies manipulate human pysche. They are addictive by design. Yet users continue to consent to sell their attention (re: data) to merchants.
 
Each platform — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat — has their own cunning way of keeping us hooked.
 
New York based artist Ben Fearnley designed some visualizations to illustrate our sticky social media relationships
“Each one of these platforms encourages a different kind of communication and the amount of time we spend on social media has skyrocketed. I challenged myself to create a visualisation of how I could represent each social platform’s user interaction in the most simplistic way that people could relate to and find conceptually amusing at the same time.”

Feel free to laugh and cry while I check my Tweets.

(h/t Creative Boom)

How social media fuels fantasies of the ideal self

wall picture photo portrait

Social media is the story we want to tell about ourselves. It is the edited self.

The problem occurs when that ideal self fails to match up with the real one. Can we live up to the image and credentials minted in our LinkedIn profile?

Fake it until you make it?

We paint our social media feeds with fantasies and hang them like pictures on a wall. For some people, it’s like directing and starring in their own movie. For others, sharing can make them feel like they have to be more accountable in real life. It’s a chance to match in action what our thumbs project in our profiles.

The internet is a chance to choose ourselves. We don’t need permission to post. As dehumanizing as it sounds, everyone can be their own brand without losing a sense of self.

The butterfly has to come out of the cocoon and face the music eventually.

Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter — they all work like any other placebo. They inspire us to be our best self. The only hope is that we can match the narrative on the other side of the screen.

When sharing is forgetting

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We are not only taking too many photographs and spending little time looking at them, but we’re also inhibiting in our memory in the act.

In a recent study done by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, those who document and Instagram their images are consistently less likely to remember their experience compared to the camera-less participants.

Across three studies, participants without media consistently remembered their experience more precisely than participants who used media. There is no conclusive evidence that media use impacted subjective measures of experience. Together, these findings suggest that using media may prevent people from remembering the very events they are attempting to preserve.

Just as we outsource our memory to Google — knowing it’s all too accessible with just a click — so to do we our experiential minds.

While we know our digital images will be archived in iPhoto or Google Photo libraries for eternity, we’ll be unlikely to recall vivid details of the event when we return to look at them.

Writes Susan Sontag in On Photography:

“A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”

Externalizing events is not just limited to the camera. We can impair our memories with a notebook in hand.  Similarly, if we take down every note the teacher repeated in class we are less likely to remember the most important takeaways. If we want to better remember the things we experience, we have to remember to look up every once in a while.

We must compel ourselves our see in order to notice the interesting things in the world around us. Perhaps our inner eye cameras are all we need to remember what we want.

The pointlessness of constant self-grading

The pointlessness of constant self-grading
Books by Carlos Arl | $17.24
  • Five-star ratings
  • Gallup polls
  • Followers and social media ‘clout’

We obsess with gauging the temperature of our present reputation. The numbers are public, ticking up or down like stock prices.

The internet is the grandest stage of them all where we endeavor to present our best self. We strive to prove our self-worth, using likes and follows to pepper our egos.

A reputation is never finished. There’s always one more person to attract and appease.

Yet, the perpetual chase of approval remains illusory. There is no need to install an elaborate series of checks and balances on fame’s usefulness.

Our mood, needless the temperament of others, is as fickle as the weather.

Vigorous grading is not good for the person, nor the whole.


‘Everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance’

facebook, social media, cambridge analytica
gif by Matthew Butler

“Another flaw in human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance,” said Kurt Vonnegut.

Everybody’s wants to start something, but they rarely want to maintain it.

The problem in growing at no costs is that it blinds integrity. Instead of leading by example, the race to the bottom unearths the highest greed.

“The selfish reason to be ethical is that it attracts the other ethical people in the network.” Naval Ravikant

That’s the lesson of Facebook, the so-called ‘behavior modification empire.‘ The social network cut corners on data collection to make another buck. No Facebook, we will not answer any more questions “to help people get to know us.” Replace the word “people” with the attention merchants.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal was the nudge Facebook needed to become more accountable. Seizing the data of others and building on top of it contorts the machinery of morality. Sometimes the genie of innovation has to contain the miraculous.

A plethora of unconsumed content

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Movies, books, magazines, music, and podcasts. There’s too much content and too little time.

We can try to keep up and multitask or listen to podcasts 2x their speed. But it’s a zero-sum game. The internet never ends. There will always be another Netflix show to catch up on.

Yet we mustn’t fret. We only have so many hours in the day.

An overdose of content. An underdose of time.

Attention competes with sleep.

We spend 18 hours of our day staring at the rectangular glow. How much of that time is consciously doing versus seeking distractive entertainment?

As tech journalist Jonathan Margolis points out, we’re consuming ever more media but not necessarily getting more intelligent. Yet, the sales of physical books are up! Go figure.

Watch Mark Zuckerberg testify live before the Senate right here

Watch Zuckerberg’s testify live before the Senate right here
(Photo via SAUL LOEB/Getty Images)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is about to testify before the US Senate. You can expect the hearing to focus on the manipulation of data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

‘Move fast and break things’

Can Zuckerberg rectify the damage he’s done to digital oil? We never worry about our privacy until its too late.

Watch the privacy theater live below and highlights after the jump. Scroll down for a live viewing of Day 2.

Day 1


Highlights Day 1:


Day 2 — Live Now…


Highlights Day 2:

One giant leak

Creeping Mark Zuckerberg GIF by Feliks Tomasz Konczakowski-downsized.gif
gif by @konczakowski

We are lemmings with big network effects. As products, we exchange our data for lost attention, down into a rabbit hole of distraction.

Are we not plankton?

Like plankton, we are the source of food advertisers thrive on. The ocean and other animals reap all the profit. No quid pro quo, a fat frenzy.

Social media has the power to cut through the rational person by spamming their emotions. Weak ties, we are suckers for false news because it’s more exciting and shareable.

We never worry about privacy until it’s too late. The dopamine of messages, like, and ads are damn too intoxicating.

Instagram tweaks its algorithm to favor fresher posts

gif by Denis Sazhin

Instagram is making tweaks to the algorithmic feed it introduced two years ago. While the social network won’t bring back the chronological feed, it will emphasize newer posts first. You’ll also be able to manually refresh your feeds instead of kicked up to the to while browsing.

From the Instagram blog:

We’ve heard it can feel unexpected when your feed refreshes and automatically bumps you to the top. So today we’re testing a “New Posts” button that lets you choose when you want to refresh, rather than it happening automatically. Tap the button and you’ll be taken to new posts at the top of feed — don’t tap, and you’ll stay where you are. We hope this makes browsing Instagram much more enjoyable.

Based on your feedback, we’re also making changes to ensure that newer posts are more likely to appear first in feed. With these changes, your feed will feel more fresh, and you won’t miss the moments you care about. So if your best friend shares a selfie from her vacation in Australia, it will be waiting for you when you wake up.

I no longer use Instagram like I used to because the feed feels like a disorganized mosh pit. Timestamps are all over the place and my friends’ posts went missing at the cost of brands.

At least now it appears that Instagram is listening, sort of.

I’d still like the ability to create lists like Twitter. I’d create one feed specific to street photographers and another for my closest friends. An ad-less version of Instagram would be a bonus as well, even at the price of a monthly subscription.

Dave Eggers: Social media is like snack food

71XgEQwvBjL“It’s not that I’m not social. I’m social enough. But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing. It’s like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You’re not hungry, you don’t need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you’re pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it’s equally addictive.”

— The Circle by Dave Eggers (2013)

Social media is free fast food that can make your brain fat. As former president of Facebook Sean Parker said about the platform last year: it exploits a “vulnerability in human psychology.”

Blame the humans, not the bots, for retweeting false news

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gif via Ryan Seslow

According to research done by data scientists at MIT, it is humans, not bots, which disseminate false news.

The study began with the 2013 Boston bombings when Twitter spread inaccurate rumors about the aftermath of the events.

The three authors of the study then took it upon themselves to dig deeper into the fake news phenomenon by examining tweets of 3 million users from the years 2006 to 2017.

Blame the humans, not the machines

The overarching result is that false news spreads faster than real news because people on Twitter are more likely to retweet novelty. Said MIT professor and researcher Sinan Aral, “We found that, contrary to conventional wisdom, bots accelerate the spread of true and false stories at the same rate. False news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.”

Sensationalism stokes retweets. In fact, “false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories are. It also takes true stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number of people.”

MIT scientists believe misinformation also runs rampant on Facebook but is harder to detect because it lives in the echo chambers of a walled garden: FB groups, private posts, and direct messages (re: dark social). Because of Russia’s election meddling in 2016, both Facebook and Twitter are finally taking efforts to improve their platforms for better veracity detection. Fact-checking is more vital than ever.

Humans are suckers for captivating but erroneous news. Some people even refuse to let go. As Mark Twain so wisely noted, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” The good news is that the truth never expires, even if it takes longer to percolate.