A couple of thoughts:

Not long ago, the scientists and software developers who pioneered the World Wide Web thought it would democratize publishing and usher in a more open, educated and thoughtful chapter of history. But while the Internet and its offshoot technologies have improved society and daily life in many ways, they have been an unmitigated disaster for the way we communicate and learn.

Actually, let’s crank it back to the last time we had a new technology that everyone was claiming would ultimately “connect the world”, “educate the masses”, etc. That technology looked like this:

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What turned this promising communications technology into something derogatorially called the “boob tube”? Content providers who were obsessed with profit, primarily by selling ads.

As much as things change, even more they remain the same.

The Internet is crawling with normal, everyday humans who transform into vicious, nihilistic psychopaths the moment they’re granted even a thin veil of anonymity in a comment thread.

Yes. What I’ve learned over the years is that a large number of people are very good at pretending to be sane when you speak with them face to face……but they are really not sane, at all, not in the least. And that the threat of getting a fist in the face, once removed, enables these nutcases to behave in the stark, raving mad fashion that is their nature.

The longer we stay hooked, the more advertising we see, and the more eyeballs can be sold for a fraction of a penny apiece. This is why you get an e-mail if you don’t sign in for a few days. This is why your apps throttle your notifications, slowly distributing the likes on your vacation photos over the course of minutes rather than seconds. It’s an elaborate manipulation to keep you coming back for more.

Sort of like how the Vegas casinos keep you on the gambling floor, and in the chair in front of the slot machine.

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” he said. “That sucks.”

Indeed. I remember this article. The best minds used to be snapped up by NASA, to solve hard problems. Now, the best minds can’t wait to work for Google and Facebook and…..waste their minds.

There is no software that can force commenters to engage in respectful debate.

Well, there is, or will be soon. AI technology can already “hear” tension in a call center caller’s voice, so that a caller who is irate can be routed to a human expert rather than have their issue solved via automation. It’s not going to be long before an AI tool can read a comment after the enter button is pressed, decide that its snarky or derisive, and kick it back to the commentor with a message to get the emotion out. If you’re on any Disqus board today, there’s a simple form of this at work; Disqus has a list of badwords, and if you use one in your post, the post is routed to a moderator before posting.

But as I say, in the next few years, the Computer in the Sky is going to be able to tell who’s being a jerk and who isn’t, and will be able to tell the jerk to put a cork in it.

There is no app to eliminate the immense conflicts of interest and perverse incentives of pay-per-view advertising sales. There is no subroutine to stop news organizations from competing in a race to the editorial bottom, seduced by clickbait and lusting for attention at any cost.

Yep. The only solution here is that the government, like NPR and CSPAN, starts to run their own vast server farm at taxpayer expense so *some* of these applications can run nonprofit, and some news organizations can report without having to find the coin.

Tweak the algorithm all you want. It will never be a worthy substitute for a good book, a healthy debate or an honest friendship. As long as we trust software to shape our interaction with the world, life will be a disappointing, chaotic, infinite scroll.

Amen.

Written by

Data Driven Econophile. Muslim, USA born. Been “woke” 2x: 1st, when I realized the world isn’t fair; 2nd, when I realized the “woke” people are full of shit.

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