God give me the strength to ignore the news that won't change anyone's mind, the energy to engage with the news that might, and the wisdom to know the difference.— Elizabeth Ayer (@ElizAyer) September 27, 2020
“The social industry doesn’t just eat our time with endless stimulus and algorithmic scrolling; it eats our time by creating and promoting people who exist only to be explained to, people to whom the world has been created anew every morning, people for whom every settled sociological, scientific, and political argument of modernity must be rehashed, rewritten, and re-accounted, this time with their participation.
These people, with their just-asking questions and vapid open letters, are dullards and bores, pettifoggers and casuists, cowards and dissemblers, time-wasters of the worst sort…Time is not infinite. None of us can afford to spend what is left of it dallying with the stupid and bland.”—Max Read, “Going Postal.” Book Forum. Sept/Oct/Nov 2020.
Review of Richard Seymour’s The Twittering Machine, which is worth reading in its own right.
Warning: Youhole is random and potentially NSFW. Browse at your own risk.
“YouHole, another site in the same spirit programmed by Alden, exclusively plays YouTube videos under 500 views in random order. You can’t click through or see the name of the video (differentiating it from other similar websites), much less save, share, or subscribe. Videos from all over the world come up on YouHole; finding something in English is uncommon.
The site’s content-sorting system starts with picking a random language. If that language uses a Latin script, the system selects two random words from a dictionary; if it’s any other language, then it uses two random letters or characters from Unicode blocks. Then it trawls YouTube’s API, grabbing videos under 500 views and storing them in a server for future use. A lot of videos do come from the same random search term, but they’re shuffled within the database for maximum unpredictability.
“YouHole provides access to randomness,” Alden says. “You can’t do that on any of the major platforms because it’s not profitable, so their algorithms conspire to get you into feedback loops of the same content.” They maintain that this manipulation makes it easy for platforms to “market to viewers more easily and consistently.” YouHole, conversely, defies predictability and allows viewers to experience humanity how it really is, in the abyss.”—Catherine Sinow, “Three algorithm-less streaming sites revive the wacky Web from days of yore.” Ars Technica. August 9, 2020.
Occasionally, I’ll see an article where someone talks about giving up social media or a specific service – such as Facebook – for a week, a month, 99 days, a year, or even that it isn’t possible for most people. The last may be true. If someone relies on weak ties to get through difficult times in their lives, they probably need to maintain those ties in an efficient way, such as by using Facebook.
For example, if you need to call Uncle Joe to come and pick you up when your car breaks down, Uncle Joe uses Facebook and you don’t see him much, then you probably need to be on Facebook. That’s your reality.
Another reality is that giving up Facebook is that you’ll lose friends. I tend to have a very small social circle. I have a couple of friends, and I invest a lot in those relationships. However, one of my friends lives far away, and we had moved to communicating primarily through Facebook. When I deleted most of my social media accounts back in 2017, the friendship slowly faded after.
So, there’s a price to be paid. You aren’t as connected, and it means some of your relationships will atrophy as a result.
I still maintain a few social media accounts. But, I’ve moved to a model where I do not post anything to social media and I don’t use it. I don’t browse. I don’t post. I don’t comment. On a very rare occasion, I might react or like something. But, I mostly use it so that if there’s a link to, say, Twitter in an email newsletter, I use a Twitter account using a free software app to view it on my phone. There’s no point being a zealot about it.
But, on the other end, I’ll never go back to being a regular user of a service like Facebook, which I don’t use in any form. It’s poisonous and manipulative. I miss my friend, but the cost of maintaining that relationship, and others, through Facebook was simply too high.
Looking at it after three years, I’d recommend leaving it, if you can. At the very least, try a sabbatical, so you can get a feel for what using the service is costing you in terms of your emotional well-being. Uncle Joe will still be there, if you decide log back on after a month off.
The playbook is: Attack, reframe, normalize and politicize. The goal is not rational discussion but repetition. I could write a bot to make far right political comments in Internet forums, and people do. Which leaves the question: how should we respond to people whose ideas could algorithmically programmed and whose goal is repetition? One place to start is simply pointing out what is going on. There’s no point engaging with the content of what is being said because it’s being offered in bad faith.
Open Question: Are smart phones primarily an information technology or a control technology?
“What the phone promises you psychologically is not content as such, but a space on the screen that is totally obedient to you. This translates into the illusion that the world, seen through the screen, will be equally obedient. I think any effort to try to understand smartphone addiction needs to grapple with the fact that it is much closer to a control technology than an information technology. Of course, it tells you useful things but what it offers you is navigation and control, the ability to make a fast-moving and confusing world obey you. One of the main contrasts in the book is between a view of the world that tries to represent it—the classically modern one of the seventeenth century for which the map would be a classic example—and a view of the world which brings it under control, which is a military ideal. Today, we often have no idea where we are going until we put a destination into our phone and follow the instructions. This navigation-based approach to the world originates from military technology and the need to bring the world under control.”–William Davies interview with Tobias Haberkorn, “Control Groups.” The Point Magazine. December 7, 2019.
“…This paper will focus on corporate “third-party” tracking: the collection of personal information by companies that users don’t intend to interact with. It will shed light on the technical methods and business practices behind third-party tracking…
The first step is to break the one-way mirror. We need to shed light on the tangled network of trackers that lurk in the shadows behind the glass. In the sunlight, these systems of commercial surveillance are exposed for what they are: Orwellian, but not omniscient; entrenched, but not inevitable. Once we, the users, understand what we’re up against, we can fight back.”-Bennett Cyphers, “Behind the One-Way Mirror: A Deep Dive Into the Technology of Corporate Surveillance.” Electronic Frontier Foundation. December 2, 2019.
“Every image you post online is a clue. Aggregating this information can provide a clear picture not only to your pattern of life but also an insight into your location and home address and even clues to passwords.”—Stuart Peck, “Why OPSEC Is For Everyone, Not Just For People With Something To Hide – Part II.” Tripwire.com. November 19, 2019.
“The hashtag ‘TooFarLeft’ trended on Twitter on Saturday morning, in part because of comments made Friday by former President Obama…Obama spoke at a fundraising meeting Friday evening and warned donors of the danger of the 2020 Democratic primary field moving too far to the left.”-Marty Johnson, “‘Too Far Left’ hashtag trends on Twitter.” TheHill.com. November 16, 2019.
I don’t use Twitter. But, I read this piece and thought it might be a useful corrective. The Overton Window for political discourse in the United States runs from the moderate conservatism of your run-of-the-mill educated liberal elite to the extremist ideologies of the radical right. If this is your starting point, then it’s not terribly difficult to be “too far left” of the bounds of this framework.
But, scanning through the #toofarleft hashtag, I almost immediately had misgivings. We need to redefine the boundaries of our political conversation, if for no other reason to diversify the universe of views, foster creative solutions to problems and make the conversation more interesting. It is clear to me that this is not what is happening on Twitter.
We need more people speaking with perspectives from the Left because that is what is missing. But, identity isn’t a perspective. Identity informs a perspective.
We cannot share our lived experience. It is impossible to convey what it’s like to be a combat veteran, mother, addict or any of the other infinite aspects of our selves that inform our understanding of the world. Yet, the arguments frequently offered these days take the form of: “As an X…” You’ve immediately reduced your experience to that one thing and you’ve alienated your audience by referencing an experience they don’t share.
Or, if they do share it, chances are they already share your perspective. You’re preaching to the choir and alienated everyone else. And this is true everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you a devote Catholic against abortion talking about souls, a scientist advocating for artificial intelligence, or protesting in the Extinction Rebellion, you have to start not with yourself but with the perspective of The Other; we all do.
This is one of the central problems with social media. It erases the audience, or rather, you become your own audience, with the rest of the world listening in on your interior dialogue. Why would we want to do that to ourselves or to the world?