This is really well written and good and I’m going to pull out bits and be nitty about them because they provoked thoughts, but not because they’re intended to be parts of some kind of refutation.

You probably got the link to this article from some form of social media.

RSS baybeeeee

One of the biggest hits that social media has done to our world is that it’s made truth become a relative thing instead of an objective thing.

I don’t think the core of this can be blamed on social media. I think you can blame social media for a lot of the very weird instances of relative truth, for many of its most destructive expressions, for an increased rate of degradation even maybe–but it’s not clear to me that truth as “an objective thing” was what society had before social media. There are a lot of trends of increasing institutional distrust that predate, you know, Pokes and Top 8s and … whatever.

It’s also true that – like, for any given country, in what year did all its citizens become equally enfranchised? Are they? In what decade did women start participating equally in public life? Do they now? Without those kinds of preconditions, the systems of truth that exist there are part of a coercive system of power, one formed pretty much by definition only of people who benefit somehow from its dominance. Which isn’t to say that reality doesn’t exist before society starts listening to people who aren’t straight white dudes – but maybe it’s a lot easier to get everyone in any given room to agree on “objective facts” when they have the necessary mutual trust that comes from being People Like Us.

Maybe it would always be harder to get fact consensus in an actually multicultural and fair society. If you actually get a multicultural and fair society out of the deal, that’s not a problem to shy away from.

The age of literacy and print media lasted for at least thousands of years. Social media and the interet has existed for 50 years by the most liberal estimates. Maybe this is one of those cases where large changes in these models cause outright societal chaos because it exposes the biases that we’ve already had for so long. Are things chaotic because of the change or is the change making things chaotic?

This is really, really important and very interesting. I don’t know that I think that we’d really finished adjusting to literacy and print, if I’m being honest.

There is a chunk about the printing press that I’d question the history of–when people talk about religion and the printing press, it’s really Protestantism that they mean spread, not Christianity–but the questions are the right questions.

We could also talk about the negatives of the printing press. I’m gonna toss out there that I’m not a fan of Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies, don’t really think that was good for society. The point isn’t that Someone Should Time Travel And Destroy Those Presses, it’s that really big things are terrible as well as good, in ways you would never have predicted when they first showed up.

The big thing about the comparison with the printing press that’s interesting to me is that the printing press really obviously didn’t empower individuals but instead the institutions who could afford to run them. Social media as it exists today, does not empower individuals either, but people think it does. You’re not “posting up” something on Twitter any more than you’re “publishing” something when you send in a Confession to Seventeen magazine and they take something like it and sell ads next to it. But with the Internet, it’s close enough that people get the illusion that’s what they’re doing.

To me, that’s maybe the scary difference right now about the Internet and the printing press. Everyone knew how the printing press worked, you know? Not enough to run it themselves, maybe, but all of the interactions and relationships were clear.

What does it mean that the Internet has such a huge place in people’s lives and such a vanishingly small fraction of people could even explain to you how a page shows up in the browser? How does it impact our ability to adjust to it as a civilization?

Author of the article here. I’m not really critiquing your questions as much as just giving them my own answers and input because they are really good. Your response to post is probably worth being its own blog article on its own.

You’re not “posting up” something on Twitter any more than you’re “publishing” something when you send in a Confession to Seventeen magazine and they take something like it and sell ads next to it. But with the Internet, it’s close enough that people get the illusion that’s what they’re doing.

Yes, so much this. Twitter is an advertising company. Trump must have been paydirt to them. He brought such a captive audience under the most abusive terms. They must have made millions off of his vile posts getting on the news, making people check the website/app to see if it was actually true.

Twitter benefits from making people feel hopeless or angry because those emotions gear people towards interacting with the app/website more. It’s only natural that the algorithm driven feeds tend to push towards content that makes people feel that way (this was probably not the intent when such algorithms were developed, but that is definitely the effect I have seen unfold).

What does it mean that the Internet has such a huge place in people’s lives and such a vanishingly small fraction of people could even explain to you how a page shows up in the browser?

The fact that so many people are so illiterate about technology saddens me. It is central to our lives and almost nobody knows how it works. Part of the goal of my posts on my blog are to explain how technology works so that more people can understand. I try to start from as clean as slate as I can, and I hope my intent gets across.

How does it impact our ability to adjust to it as a civilization?

In my experience I’ve seen technologists come across as literally magic beings that do unexaminable things to make the internets go. It probably doesn’t help that things are so damn complicated that it’s hard to actually explain things from a moderately clean slate, especially when distributed systems get into the mix.

Maya
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62Y

HI! I wrote a comment in answer that got long enough that I put it on my site https://maya.land/fragments/2021-01-26-christine-lemmy/ :)

Dessalines
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52Y

Very good article. It got me thinking about so many of these platforms thrive on negative emotions and obsessive or addictive actions. The psychological trickery they use is the most insidious to me, bc of course they hire psych phds that we’re no match for, and we’re left picking up the pieces of why we feel angry or distressed after spending a few hours online.

We gotta try to do our best to discover and mitigate the worst aspects of social media, everywhere including here.

@copacetic
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22Y

I don’t think the media is the issue here. Do we have any evidence that the percentage of lies and fake news is higher with social media than 100 years ago? Media is just faster and available to everybody now.

I see the problem in incentives: Ads are the big source of income for social media. Thus they are incentivized towards controversy.

I have no solution. As long as people believe that ads don’t affect them that muchpersonally, why not tolerate them?

@JoeEatWorld
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12Y

You’re using the solution on here, I hope :)

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