Saturday, 26 May 2018

economies of scale

Although I still listened in digest form, I found myself a little soured on TED Talks of late when confronted with the comment whose context I cannot remember questioning whether I recalled the last seminar I’d listened to. I couldn’t say and assumed that that meant it didn’t really have resonance and endurance for me as an idea but realised that I was not really analysing the opinion. Then (appropriately on the day that the GDPR became enforceable) NPR’s produced an episode of the TED Radio Hour that was every bit as probing and important and had all the hallmarks of a lecture series at its finest. Building up to the closing remarks of computer scientist Jaron Lanier, the show (do check out all the talks at the link above—my opinion is completely rehabilitated even if I still cannot remember the topic before this one) demonstrated how much of an impossible request it is of our mental capacity to hang in a state of suspension between distraction and the anxiety of missing out for an increasingly large portion of our day. Our minds are made to be bombarded with signals and impressions of all sorts and have the tolerance for a lot of stimulus but when it comes mediated through dozens of competing sources, the focus of our attention and time becomes increasingly alienated and commodified by algorithms with the goal of funnelling the most traffic by making things just a notch more extreme—until its ugliness is reflected back at us.
This engineering designed to make us sample over and beyond what we would have previously delimitated as aligned with our values, standards and beliefs of course is not confined to the on-line world and its personas and avatars but has real world consequences as virality leaps off our screens—and not just in the aggregate either but moreover individually our capacity for critical-thinking and genuine engagement atrophies when all those uncounted micro-decisions are not our own and we lose the ability to cope and cultivate resilience in the face of adversities both sudden and subtle. We are not doomed but if we fail to change and allow our lives to be defined by attention-seekers that yoke of autocracy and dystopia will be ours to bear.