Life in Algorithms

Here’s the thing: as humans, we’ve always lived in our own, individual realities. Realities created from compounded factors like where you were raised, your individual tastes, what you studied in school, your ethnicity, your family– the list goes on. It is inherently impossible for another person to see the world in the exact same way that you see it, because no two people live the same life down to the minute.

And while that’s always been true, in modern times we’ve seen a bit of a shift.

These days most of the variables that make up our individual paradigms aren’t chosen by the individual (like the family you’re born into or your ethnicity). Rather, we’re seeing more and more people actively choosing to live in their own customized personal reality.

What’s making this chosen reality possible largely comes down to a little tool we’ve created called the Internet.

As it relates to media, the Internet has become one of the most significant sources of information. This is particularly strong with news media. According to Accenture Interactive, 57% of people get their news from television while 51% get it from social media. Before we consumed media via the Internet, we consumed it from TV, and before that, print. Both were limited to a handful of major networks and publications that often times were beholden to advertising interests.

The Internet changed that. It opened communication and made covering the stories that weren’t being told possible. This shift has been huge in progressing our world, making information from all corners of the world much more accessible, with social media playing a huge role.

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Along with social media came a new way of learning about the world. People had more to say, and an accessible platform to get their voices heard. They had more room to choose who they were and weren’t friends with, and a larger pool of media outlets to pick from.

As people started to separate themselves from both “friends” and media outlets that didn’t align with their interests, opinions, and worldviews, algorithms stepped in and said, “Let me do this for you.” With the rise of these algorithms, we now have tailored media consumption based on our preferences.

This makes it so we’re easily blinded to the differing opinions of the other side. Politics is a perfect example of this. Just look at how the different media outlets treated Trump versus Clinton throughout the entire 2016 election cycle. Not to mention the circulation of fake news that was fed to certain users based on their interests via social media algorithms– Facebook specifically.

So what does this mean for us as a collective group? In short, it can make it more difficult for differing opinions to come together. And when it’s more difficult to come together, it’s tougher to reach common ground and make the compromises necessary to maintain a functioning, evolving society.

Why then are we seeking out these curated, echo-chamber-like feeds? We can look to culture as a whole for this– primarily our constant hunt for non-stop happiness.

Nowadays we can theoretically access a dopamine hit via our devices whenever we’re feeling uncomfortable, bored or sad. This gives us a quick fix, but signals to our psyche that those other, natural, human emotions are wrong, telling us that pleasure and happiness should be our natural state of being… which is of course, false and unrealistic.

As human beings, we’re not birthed to be constantly happy– we’re meant to be whole. In our constant search for happiness, what often results is a kind of subtle depression and apathy towards wanting to contribute to society at all.

What we want to be exposed to isn’t always what we need to be exposed to. There are all kinds of ideas and products out there that we may find we actually like, but with the algorithmic feed we’ve unknowingly created for ourselves we may not ever be introduced to them.

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So how can we change this?

We need to consciously try to reach out to communities outside our own comfort zone in order to stay in tune with collective culture.

Seek out publications that you disagree with in order to understand what they’re saying. Ask people with different viewpoints why they think what they think. Follow social media accounts that differ from your beliefs to be informed in conversation.

Were you a Hillary supporter? Follow Donald Trump on Twitter. Although it may not be pleasant– and might drive you crazy– it will provide insight into what his supporters are seeing daily.

Do you subscribe to a certain religion? Great! But educate yourself about others as well by researching online their foundations so that you may be informed before casting any kind of judgement.

Do you hate celebrity culture? Take a look at Us Weekly every once and awhile to see what a large portion of pop culture is investing their time in.

Are you an avid New Yorker reader? Turn on Fox News and check out websites like The Daily Caller to see what the other side is seeing.

You get the picture.

Wherever we are on the spectrum, we don’t have to agree with the other side, but it can be beneficial to all to at least be aware of what they’re seeing and saying.

Because at this point, it’s becoming harder and harder to argue that ignorance is bliss.

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One response to Life in Algorithms

Interesting and well-written article!
Open minds open community. Surprised by the election? Your dad’s opinions? Fake news?
We must sharpen our critical thinking skills and know what’s going on in our entire world – not just our own small online world. This is a whole new area of concern for information gathering, distribution and interpretation. Important for shaping and changing our lives.

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