The Internet and the Illusion of Acceptability
This won’t be nearly as thorough as it needs to be. And frankly if YouTube trends hold, it’ll get covered in a couple months (or years) by VSauce or something anyways. But I figure I’m paying for the webhosting and I may as well use it.
There are somewhere around 7 billion people in the world. For the sake of conversation today I’m going to just focus on the 300+ million people in the united states. Mostly because it’s the country I’ve spent the most time in and it is also a country trying desperately (and failing) to grasp the influence of algorithms on everyday life.
Everything around you on the internet gives you a false sense of acceptability. I’m going to go into that in detail and you can decide to accept it or not. If I’m correct there is a high chance you’ll accept it just by virtue of being here. The claim itself seems possibly a bit bold but there isn’t much to it.
The first step is recognizing that there is no depth of depravity you can reach where there won’t be like minded people. We are all using the same basic organic matter to comprise our thoughts. The spectrum with which we all live is fairly tightly confined. This is all a nice way of saying you, and I, are not special snowflakes. No matter what you like, there is some tiny % of people out there (at a minimum) that also likes it.
“But I like nailing deer to a wall with shrapnel explosives. That has to be unique.” I can tell you with certainty that with a bit of searching you’ll find a community for this. No matter how lovely, or how loathing, everything about you has a place in this world. Depending on just how depraved you are it might be a bit harder to find others willing to admit it, but once you find them you’ll become fast friends.
This was harder back in the day. Most of the leg work had to be done by you. But now we are in the world of algorithms. Connecting you with like minded people is incredibly lucrative. It keeps you engaged and helps get impressions on advertisements. So as long as you are willing to accept the fact that you aren’t a snowflake the rest of this process is pretty simple.
The first is that you say something. Just about anything, online. Once you express yourself openly services like Google will begin doing most of the legwork for you. Any like minded websites that are advertising through them will start showing up for you everywhere. This gives you an in to meeting new people that also share your love for butchering mammals (or whatever it is).
Now that you’ve met these people you start connecting with them through the various social networks you use. Those networks wish to keep you engaged so they too will then start showing you friends of those friends. This will help tighten your sphere as Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere start showing you less and less content it notices you don’t engage with. “Animal Cruelty? Pshaw, what nonsense.” You might say, clicking that “Show me less of this.” feature.
Finally all of these services provide you manual tools (like the show me less feature) to help filter out interactions that don’t conform with your feelings. How can what you like be wrong? You’ve made friends with over 300 people with similar interests?! To you that must mean there are way more people out there that feel the same way. However that is not necessarily true. You might find some folks that share “some” of your interests. Maybe some hunters will start chatting with you because they don’t realize you enjoy watching the life fade from the eyes of your victims. You don’t really bring that up much so it doesn’t push them away.
These extreme edges to interests are not generally brought up in conversation because they rarely have a place. This is why a lot of relationships start off pretty slow. Everyone is waiting for someone to make a dick joke before they can open up with the whole list of dong comedy they’ve had stored up. You’ve experienced this, everyone you know has. It’s just a natural human thing.
But that feeling of acceptability is entirely fabricated. That love you have may not actually be alright. Maybe beating your spouse isn’t a good idea? “But I have 50,000 followers on Twitter.” Surely so, but the algorithms are doing all the heavy lifting for you. They are manipulating what information you deliver reaches others. Commentary that doesn’t appeal too certain fans as much as others will not reach them. Everyone gets a side of you that works best for them. Everyone gets a side of you that helps raise more revenue more consistently.
This is going to be the foundation of a lot of fighting in the coming years. It’s the source of all the nonsense you are probably reading about daily. This idea that extreme views (from any spectrum of society) are somehow widely supported. It’s only going to get worse as algorithms get better. They will continue to harden the shell around people and will continue to polish the pedestals they raise us upon.
It isn’t even necessarily crucial that you listen to differing opinions. I feel that the most crucial thing you can do is realize that you are being played. And if you ever think this is being hyperbolic, chat with your friends about a toaster. Watch how all the ads around you start shifting to home appliance. How all the suggestions on social networks start being about home improvements, electronics, and anything else tangentially related to toasters.
Look at that? Facebook wants you to follow Mario Batali. What a coincidence!
The moment that toaster switches to anything else, the algorithms follow. You say the most heinous thing on your mind and suddenly you find yourself in corners of the internet that you didn’t realize existed. Because even if a single person out of every million likes what you like. There are over three hundred other people in the US alone that love that thing. Imagine if you constantly spoke with three hundred different people about your hatred for one group of people or another?
Wouldn’t that feel like everyone agrees with you? I get three people chatting with me about how awesome Final Fantasy 12 is and I suddenly feel like the whole world is on my side.
Be careful. Don’t let marketing algorithms fuck you up. You are better than that. Marketing people made Game of War ads, don’t let those same folks gimp your ability to be a productive member of society. It is embarrassing.