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.

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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.”

The Wild West of data manipulation

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Tech entrepreneurs are coming to realize their moral responsibility.

Outside parties were abusing stolen Facebook data to develop psychological profiles of voters. The data mining company Cambridge Analytica was central to the information warfare. They allegedly worked with Russians to stoke fears in the UK and America on immigration and other polarizing issues. So people got fake news and conspiracy theories in their feeds which led to Brexit and Trump.

28-year-old whistleblower Christopher Wylie who admittedly ‘made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’ at Cambridge Analytica is leading the charge against the product he helped build.

If data is the new oil, social platforms are the biggest propaganda machines.

Facebook is like an adult video game. People are obsessed with the sensational. And reality pays the price of fabricated events.

‘Move fast and break things’ may be a popular hacker’s motto but it’s shown to breed more carelessness than good. Thankfully, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are facing up to the truth that while their tools bring us closer together but they also tear the world apart.

The damage has been done. The question now is how will they fix it? Some argue that the crackdown on Cambridge Analytic is just the start. Others like Om Malik are less optimistic. Pumping users and engagement are in Facebook’s DNA regardless of the consequences. Om writes:

Facebook is about making money by keeping us addicted to Facebook. It always has been — and that’s why all of our angst and headlines are not going to change a damn thing.

More to chew on here…

 

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.


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The self promotion dilemma

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By all means, show your work. The internet is a great place to get feedback and build up your confidence. Just keep in mind, it’s all about you until it isn’t.

“It’s a total catch-22: if you don’t self-promote, you won’t be known to those who hold the keys to whatever kingdom you’re interested in unlocking. If you do self-promote, you might catch the gatekeepers’ attention, but pray they don’t read your self-promotion as needy or navel-gazing. Pray you don’t violate some unwritten code of class conduct or seem too eager. You have to appear to have a lot to offer without appearing to need anyone to take it. What a strange psychic and social predicament we’ve put ourselves in.”

Read The Case for Self-Promotion

David Bowie predicted Internet-enabled dystopia in 1999

In a 1999 interview with the BBC, David Bowie foresaw the internet’s impact on music and society. The walls between artist and fan would be broken down, but the era of echo chambers and fake news would break internet culture itself.

“We are living in total fragmentation…I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we’re actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying.

Is there life on Mars? Yes, it’s just landed here. I’m talking about the actual context and the state of content is going to be so different from anything we can envisage at the moment. With the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in sympatico it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.”

Tech’s promised utopia is just beginning to release the unimaginable. But that’s not all:  check out what these kids in 1966 predicted about today’s world.

Losing control of our attention

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Screens are contagious. If we see one person look at their phone, we emulate them like we do catching someone yawn.

But the addiction is not totally our fault. With the vibrant colors of apps, the dopamine of Facebook likes and news alerts, on top of serving as a consolidated utility of our camera, wallet, and communications device, our phones are designed to hook us.

Tech is the “cigarette of the century.”

It’s amazing that in this post-internet world of surfeit information and 24/7 conversation we can even concentrate at all. We’ve numbed our thumbs from excessive use.

We’ve lost the signal to those little gaps of solitude and doing nothing where we reaped the benefits of a wandering imagination.


Can we get our bored minds back?

There are plenty of options other than riding the Facebook or Google monopoly on our attention. For as many tricks these companies play us, there as many tips to get away from them: turning our screen gray, just sitting and staring outside the window, and at the most extreme: throwing our phone into the ocean.

We can only harvest quality attention if we can escape the torment of distraction and external stimuli fighting for the inside of our heads. The world around us already creates a theater inside our head. We see the world once, with an intrinsic pair of eyes, with no need to record the outside world with a third eye.

“Attention is a form of prayer,” wrote French philosopher Simone Weil. We should insist on slowing down if we’re to restrengthen the human will.

Permanent voyeurism

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The exhibitionist plays her role and lives up to the internet’s stage of expectations. Like robots, we feign surprise at the latest occurrence of routine deja vu. 
 
We walk into our own cameras to take selfies while we move on camera recorded from CCTV above. Even the faintest nook can’t escape the ubiquitous photograph. The invisible fence amplifies a sea of caginess.

Inspection is self-inflicted

Says director Gus Hosein of Privacy International: “if the police wanted to know what was in your head in the 1800s, they would have to torture you. Now they can just find it out from your devices.”
 
The maw of Orwellian watchability is here, in our pockets and from above. The cameras render us into thoughtless lemmings of time.
 
We are the watched, watching the watchers survey conspicuous lands.

Win back your attention by turning your screen gray 📱⬜👀

The variety of colors on our smartphone screens pop like candy. As advertiser Bruce Barton wrote in his 1925 book In The Man Nobody Knows, “The brilliant plumage of the bird is color advertising addressed to the emotions.”

We tap into Instagram, scroll through a few photos, and return to the home screen to bounce off to other apps. And then we repeat the process again in a mindless fashion.

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After a while, we start to lose all conscious brain power. We fly between apps like we’re hitting buttons at the casino. The variable rewards keep us spinning in a ludic loop. Technology undermines our attention by bombarding our senses with a surfeit of stimuli that lights up like a Christmas tree.


How can we win back our focus in the distraction era?

Turn it gray. That’s right: we need to dull our screens to bore our senses. Turning the phone grayscale doesn’t make it dumb, it just makes it less attractive. Writes Nellie Bowles in the New York Times:

I’m not a different person all of a sudden, but I feel more in control of my phone, which now looks like a tool rather than a toy. If I unlock it to write an email, I’m a little less likely to forget the goal and tap on Instagram. If I’m waiting in line for coffee, this gray slab is not as delightful a distraction as it once was.

Want to give your thumbs a break and regain some attention? Study the instructions on Lifehacker on how to turn your screen grayscale.

Remember to frame that vacation photo

Photo by Wells Baum

If you want to remember a vacation, you’re almost better off framing a picture rather than just posting it on your Instagram feed.

According to recent research, owning a physical photo is more likely to encourage someone to share their experience with others. It turns out that digital images are terrible cues.

“Back in the old days, we’d wait until we finished a roll of film and then bring it to the store to get printed. So waiting for the pictures kept the experience top of mind. Then, we’d take the pictures around to our friends one by one (or group by group) and get to share our experience over and over again. Now, we simply post it on social media once and we’re done.”


However, it’s not all digital media’s fault. It’s also our dwindling attention spans driven by the urge to consume what’s next. To echo Om Malik in a recent New Yorker piece: “We have come to a point in society where we are all taking too many photos and spending very little time looking at them.”

Apps like Timehop and Facebook’s “One year ago today” feature attempt to revitalize old posts to conjure up past memories. I personally recommend reviewing “On this Day” in Day One journal, not just for vacation recall but also to gain perspective on all life’s milestones, ups, and downs.

Whether it’s in the form of a framed photo, a souvenir, or relived Facebook post, you can extend any fond memory with subtle reminders.

A strange kind of progress

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A strange kind of progress permeates our world. While technology advances, privacy seems to take two steps back. Social media exploits openness.

While bitcoin promises to disrupt the financial industry to give power to individuals, it smells of chaos and distrust.

Perhaps the new world order takes getting used to. After all, it is habit that puts one to sleep.


But also consider that those obsessed with solutionism — innovating on top of old world problems — can do more harm than good. For instance, Facebook is an around the clock newspaper that misinforms its users every day. A culture of fast-food consumption and ‘breaking news’ outpaces reality, slipping us into inanition.

Problem-solving technologies are bicycles for the mind. However, moving at warp-speed while ignoring the status quo puts our cognition into more fragile territory than ever. Unchecked change is the root of psychological damage.

Borders by VSCO

In its never-ending endeavor to augment mobile photography and enhance digital art, VSCO added Borders to its app today.

The new feature allows VSCO X users to frame their images with 17 different color options. You can see some of my first efforts below.

Filters aren’t dead. Nor are the wall decorations. Kudos to VSCO for giving its users the tools to create and keep experimenting. Never mundane, always interesting.


Support the blog…

I spend hours each day digging the web for interesting gems and remixing them here. If you enjoy reading wellsbaum.blog, please consider becoming a patron or making a donation. You can also contribute as little as $1 below with just a couple clicks. Thank you.

Make a one-time donation

Contributing to the blog would help me immensely. For every contributed dollar, I can keep the blog running and continue to provide you interesting links.

$1.00

Sean Parker: Facebook exploits a “vulnerability in human psychology”

Social platforms are casinos, and likes, replies, comments, shares, etc. are the poker chips. We are addicted to social currency on top of our psychological desire to solve for loneliness.

The main reason I blog is to get away from the hyper-activeness and dopamine-hitting fast food of social media, so I can slow down and gather my thoughts.

How often do you get stuck in the ludic loop?

Seeking an objective point of view

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Photo by Wells Baum

We are obsessed with the first-person because we live in a culture that emphasizes the individual. The selfie generation makes “I” the predominant jargon for almost everything we post on social media and talk about in real life.

Me-ness has shrouded our ability to step outside the self and see the world objectively. It’s not all about us. We view ourselves in the reflection of other people. The looking glass self is external. Writes Adam Price in defense of third person.


It worries me that we may be slowly losing the cultural ability or inclination to tell stories in third person. Why does this matter? Because, I believe, third-person narration is the greatest artistic tool humans have devised to tell the story of what it means to be human.

“I think therefore I am.”

Our inner-narrative predicts how we’ll act in real life. It controls the outer stage of actions. As narrators, we can be more thoughtful of how to talk to about ourselves despite the egotism reinforced by the dizzying pace of status updates. We find deeper meaning when we can see and express a world bigger than ourselves.

We constantly divide our attention between the first- and third-person points of view, between desiring the shiny object in front of us and figuring out what it means for us to take it: who else wants it, what we have to do to get it, and whether it’s worth taking it from them.

In Defense of Third Person