Streams of consciousness sourced from current affairs

[This post was originally made on another site, and was written as part of a university assessment]

I’ve already written about how the internet has changed over the last twenty-or-so years, I even talked about why. What I didn’t talk about was the forces that let this shift happen.

The success of Google showed that traffic could easily be diverted to particular hubs, and result was two-fold. The more popular something was, the more popular it became – and the larger the audience heading to a site, the more general the advertising you could put on the site and still get results. Google has changed so much over the years that we forget how it used to make its money – overt advertising.

We forget that just because we can’t see change, it doesn’t mean that nothing has changed. Google may have changed their search results page and home page (the worst thing is that I know it has changed several times and can’t find a news story on it through Google) a bunch of times, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ve changed their algorithms far more often than that.

When people are making money off your consumption, they are no longer interested in your personal growth or health. They aren’t interested in making you a better person or trying to give you a direction in life. You are a receptacle, a spittoon to be aimed at and filled with their junk – as much as they can manage before you fill up or get bored. They need to know if the image loaded to make sure you’ve seen it, and then if you’ve clicked on it. In fact, before they can even decide whether you should count as an audience or not, they need to know what country you live in.

The audience is no better – we used to be happy to share, open to new experiences. Now it’s the same reductive channeling, the second we see something mentioned we wait for the inevitable comments. Reddit (the self-proclaimed front page of the internet) is the worst for this. Someone mentions something you disagree with? Better find a link to explain why they’re wrong and educate the masses. Someone posts an opinion without a source? Clearly they’re making it up, better make them back it up (and then deride their sources when they post them) – the true joy is noticing that you don’t need to post sources to disagree with them. See a picture of a turtle? Better comment on its diet and the condition of its shell. A dog and a baby in the same photo? Clearly the safest assumption is that the parents, who have gestated and birthed this child, have no regard for its well–being and safety. Good work guys, crisis averted. It’s sad that given a platform where we could behave however we wanted, we’ve decided to copy the people we learned from instead of trying to be better people. The real tragedy, however, is that we’re all just milling around looking for something to do, and we’ve decided that being bored and judgemental is better than just being bored.

This lack of direction has left technology open to abuse from users and markets. The infrastructure of the internet was experimental and exploratory – testing the limits of new technologies and global interactions. The innocence of the innovators has always been overshadowed by the looming profile of marketers, and because of the money involved they’re slowly buying out and strangling the competition. Instagram and WhatsApp are owned by Facebook, who are pushing to strangle Snapchat – these companies want to track and control all of your personal networks and communication so that they can sell you goods and services. They know which of your friends you talk to the most and what you talk about – they know the people you’re friends with but don’t really talk to. They’re the people who coin phrases like ‘dark social’ to refer to people who won’t play ball in their park under their spotlights and cameras. It’s also worth remembering that Facebook have been investing into augmented reality and computer vision companies – a suitable innocuous term for systems that, among other things, can recognise faces and analyse photographs (you know, like you post on Instagram and Facebook).

It’s hard to know what to do about this, but bear in mind when you jump on your computer that the people who built this infrastructure did so with a huge, flat plain of sharing and exploration in mind. It was the money that came along, much after the people, who put up fences to corral you into their cattle yard, or into their walled garden. It’s those people who let once green digital fields fall fallow and forced innovators (true innovators, not innovators like the guy who made Flappy Bird) to waste their energy digging underground where they can’t be seen, where they can work on the things that can help people without needing to justify their bottom line or brainstorming who they can get to be the face of the advertising campaign.

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