By Josh Skinner
“Why do you read books”?
-John Snow (still knows nothing)
“The same reason you sharpen your sword; you have your weapon, and I have mine
– Tyrion Lannister (knows a lot of things)
This is from a show that failed to heed a dwarfs’ advice, becoming progressively less prone to meeting the standards established at the outset of its existence. So how do we ensure that this same standard is held in the modern context? How does one sharpen their academic sword brain?
For the most part the answer is still to read a book, or to engage in a discussion. In the same way that for athletes the answer is to build muscles by going to the iron temple to pick things up and put them back down again.
But what if they (if you are confused as to who they are, refer to the wise prophet Khaled from the isle of DJ) don’t want you to go to the gym? What if they don’t want us to know things about stuff? Well in reality this invisible they exists, and actively prevents you from the equivalent of leg day in the world of smart stuff and things. The now dreaded, opposing view.
A brief explainer: algorithms are capitalistic black magic. They take the means of production out of the hands of those who seized the means of production from the workers and jam them into a “self-contained step-by-step set of operations to be performed”. I don’t know how they work, most don’t, but most people have to some degree born the brunt of algorithms gone wild.
At the end of the day, Karl Marx was wrong about the big picture, but did predict a lot of telekinetic spider scary stuff. Humans within capitalist societies didn’t create a class conscious, and they did not march into utopia. He was prone to hyperbole, which lead to him making a bunch of unbased claims about what the future would hold. But hey, what white man doesn’t? However, his hyperbole lead to a quote that sums of the effects of algorithms had on the world 2008:
“Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange, and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”
Algorithms maximize the amount of money flowing through the globalized financial system, which also maximises the amount of carnage a financial catastrophe like the ‘08 housing market crash caused. Algorithms are once again trying to ruin society. They are there to mathematically maximise given potential of certain situations. Three out of every four movies watched on Netflix are selected on the “Trending Now”, or “What To Watch Next” option, both of which are decided by algorithms.
Similarly, social media algorithms are here to maximize the sense of rightness that you feel when you log into your feed. Simultaneously these algorithms maximise the almost into-the-void like gap between ideological tribes. You aren’t strong if you only exercise your upper body in the same way that you’re not smart if you only reinforce your own beliefs. The world has been neglecting their leg days.
Leg day is hard. Not only is it hard, but the trauma lingers for days afterwards, aging the leg day participant by about 40 years in a matter of 40 minutes. Athletes who take their career seriously don’t have the luxury of skipping leg day. The same work ethic is required for those who want their opinions to be taken seriously.
Getting through a Breitbart/Huffington Post article when you view them as biased propaganda can give you the DCI John Luther stress induced same hand index and thumb temple rub. But when DCI John Luther is stressed out, it’s because he’s focused on understanding his prey. He knows that only through understanding his opponent can he predict the killer guys (let’s be honest, female serial killers aren’t a thing) next move.
I’m sure there were people who could have predicted Donald Trump’s rise outside of the trump camp, but no one really did. Obviously social media algorithms aren’t the root of all evil, but they certainly make it easier to believe your opinions are infallible in a world in which truth doesn’t exist.
Algorithms are here stay, unfortunately, but as humans there are ways to play them at their own game. It requires a bit of work and a lot of shaking your head back and forth while muttering in disbelief and confusion.
Facebook is for your friends. And for being reassured of the things you already know. So when you post something to Facebook or share something on it, just know that the only people who are going to see it are already aware of its existence. If you see something that you want to read, take a deep breath, go onto an actual news site like the BBC or Al Jazeera, read for the facts, inform yourself to the best that you can, then start inundating yourself with bias.
Think of the people you hate. Not because they constantly repost wordporn or reveal intimate details of their lives on social media. Think of the people that you hate just because they express their opinions. Like. Their. Stuff. The dark nebulous algorithm takes this as a sign that you want more of that content on your newsfeed. Even if the person isn’t a person and is an adversarial blog that makes you sigh audibly in the room, just loud enough so that people notice, but don’t talk to you.
Twitter doesn’t really do algorithms, for the most part. They do have them, but give you the option to opt out of them. So Twitter can be a safe place to consume news in. Without the algorithms, everything appears in a chronological order, which means that one can create a Twitter account that’s entirely for the consumption of news, in no particular order. This won’t be based on a computer attempting to make the world as comfortable or as hellish as it deems. This isn’t an advertisement for Twitter, it’s just a friendly reminder that there are mediums in which the consumer still has choice over what they consume.