Cats on a Treadmill

Media in the Online Age

Facebook and online media in general often claims that thanks to the World Wide Web we are connecting with each other and making greater communities. However, more and more research is suggesting that in fact the opposite is happening. Companies like Facebook are actually atomising society and encouraging an ‘Echo Chamber’ effect on our fundamental ideas, values and beliefs.

In a recent article on Tech Crunch, Jon Evans argues that

At Facebook’s scale, behavioral targeting doesn’t just reflect our behavior, it actually influences it. Over time, a service which was supposed to connect humanity is actually partitioning us into fractal disconnected bubbles.

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A New Statesman article outlines how the Echo Chamber is linked to the recent decision for Britain to leave the European Union:

Social networks – and echo chambers specifically – might be partly to blame. A study carried out last year, entitled “The spreading of misinformation online”, revealed their concerning effects. According to Michela del Vicario, a co-author of the study, echo chambers are “closed environments, inside of which users are not reached by contrasting information”.

And The Independent even claim that social media Echo Chambers are in part to blame for the rise of Donald Trump’s success in the United States of America:

Instead of trying to reach out and understand why people felt moved to vote for Trump, too many admonished them. We retreated to our echo chambers, where we bellow our opinions at people who are already in agreement and enjoy having them repeated back to us. Our prismatic view of public opinion through tailored social media feeds not only hid from us the confused, angry people we needed to try and reason with, but it gave us a warped view of their motives. And this is where it gets particularly scary: Trump voters are fully aware he is sexist and xenophobic, they just don’t care.

But what is the answer? Should we all leave Facebook and the Internet for good?

Andrew Keen argues that the Internet is a failed experiment. That the promise of the World Wide Web has not been fulfilled. So, perhaps we shouldn’t abandon it completely but if research is telling us that social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are actually bad for our mental health then surely we should no longer use them?

We can argue that the Internet (and by extension your own social media) is like a mirror. If an idiot looks into it then it is an idiot who peers back. If you redesign how you use social media and the Internet then things can change. One of the most difficult things to accomplish is to navigate through the noise of the Internet. To look past the bigotry, the lies, the fake news and even the cats on a treadmill. To look past all that and to seek out only what makes us better is more  difficult than we think and this, I would argue, is because when it really comes to it, deep down, we don’t care.

It appears that Neil Postman was right when he wrote in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

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And so there it is.

As Adam Curtis says, Oh Dear.