Great article. The author concludes with the following points on what is happening to information as all information is increasingly "flattened" to fit the new, single content stream of the social media feeds on our smartphones:
1. Everything is trivialized: major public policy changes arrive in the same package and placed next to trivial pop culture.
2. We respond to information using the same low-bandwidth tools (like, heart, retweet, etc.) that limit the expressiveness of response.
3. All information is in direct competition, playing the algorithms to gain attention.
4. Power over information is consolidated to a very small number of gatekeepers, and mainly Facebook.
This is an interesting way to look at things, and it resonates with me. I think the author described the problems with what I think of as the "hypermedia" era very well. But the author doesn't offer suggestions for what, if anything we should do about it.
As for myself, a couple years ago I read Cal Newport's Deep Work and then Digital Minimalism, and found their ideas compelling enough that I deleted Facebook and disabled web browsing and email on my phone (although I later put web and email back).
However, #deletefacebook seems to have about a snowballs chance of happening at large.
What countering forces could or should break the deathgrip that Facebook and Google in particular hold over communication and information publication today?
There are quite possibly better ways to run reactions than the way current social media does it.
However, I think it's easy to miss the important role/use that these devices play. The article "the silence is deafening" just the other day noted how non-verbal cues in conversation and I'd add that social media reactions and similar devices allows people to be "loosely engaged" with each other in the way that who attend the same event without exchanging words are loosely connected.
And these kinds of perfunctory attachments are important (as COVID also shows). These kinds of attachment were also manipulated even before the Internet, with store clerks instructed to say "have a nice day" and such even in the 1970s.
Which is to say, likes, memes and emoticons may seem kinda silly and annoying from one perspective but they're a way to emulate "the stuff of life" and we need to think about how to do that better.
There are market forces behind the engagement cult, so - unfortunately - they're probably not wrong while those forces continue to operate.
The root of that problem is the use of the web as a device for capturing time and attention and selling that attention to third parties. As long as that continues to be the prime directive, the race to the bottom will continue.
I derive some hope from the fact that there seems to be an accelerating trend of people doing their online socializing in places other than Facebook, even if they still technically have a FB account. I don't have stats to back this up (FB itself has an obvious motive to obscure the fact that this is happening, so I don't trust their usage statistics), but I'm meeting more and more people who state that they only visit FB rarely, and express a preference for WhatsApp, Discord, or some other service for actually getting into contact.
A related anecdote: I finally took the step of deactivating my FB account some months ago, and when I told people about this I mostly heard sympathy rather than disappointment or disbelief.
For #3 at least, an environment that separated within-topic from between-topic competition for attention might be a major improvement. A large search engine cooperating with a government might be able to pull this off by making content also findable on any major all-vs.-all feed ineligible for display: a preselected topic is embedded in each search, so search results can in principle be isolated from between-topic attention competition. This would almost have to start outside the US, but if it actually works it may then see wider adoption.
(I'd expect some radicalization/"evaporative cooling" memetic hazard to remain, but it should at least decrease in intensity, since one driver of increased self-radicalization is low viability of moderate, non-attention-grabbing content relative to overstated clickbait.)
Power over information is consolidated to a very small number of gatekeepers, and mainly Facebook.
I run a modestly large Facebook group. I haven't noticed any way that Facebook prevent me from whatever sort of information I want to be. So I can't see Facebook as an absolute filter.
But certainly, at scale, Facebook does wind-up being a filter but through the default, predictable laziness of the average person.
Remember, Hypothetically, if you had a network of thousands of moderators and millions of people in civil, well moderated groups, you could have a debate in almost social media forum you chose; FB, Reddit, some BBS, email, whatever. The exception would Twitter or any media that doesn't allow moderation. But at a point, if we had actual community, it could trump the media it was on.
This is not to say that this is at all likely. Rather, the point when you have passive mass of seething people, yes, sure who is turning the spigots on the hot-button issue content is going to be an "influencer" but this status is by no means cure-able by the elimination of a given media outlet (well, some portion of "#deletefacebook" seem to be weird introverts with a sort of daft "the problem is people who don't know each talking at all" approach and who hope that eliminating platforms can stop this).
What countering forces could or should break the deathgrip that Facebook and Google in particular hold over communication and information publication today?
I think the hostility these entities face today expresses a situation of them not having a tighter grip (at least a much tighter grip) on the public imagination than The New York Times, CNN, right-wing radio, corporate public relations etc. There are many forces struggle here. In many ways I shudder to think what a Facebook under the control of whatever corporate consensus might appear (and I'm further to the left than the right).
> you could have a debate in almost social media forum you chose ... if we had actual community, it could trump the media it was on.
Perhaps, but not easily. The medium is still the message, and, to pick on Facebook, its design militates against true discourse. Engaging in a debate is an exercise in fighting the tool. For example, FB is intent on making you accidentally miss part of what your opponent has said. Everything from hiding comments, to forcing you to click "read more" over and over again is designed to facilitate misunderstanding and frustration. If an actual debate in good faith is the goal, it is hard to overcome design problems of this sort.
Regarding your rejection of FB as an absolute filter, it remains true that FB decides which posts in your FB group it will show to people, and which ones it won't.
The medium is still the message, and, to pick on Facebook, its design militates against true discourse. Engaging in a debate is an exercise in fighting the tool. For example, FB is intent on making you accidentally miss part of what your opponent has said.
Describing this Facebook's intent requires references. Facebook's algorithm aims for engagement and certain TL;DR; quality. But there are no tools that don't require a person to fight medium. No medium is perfect for discussion and any discourse requires an awareness of medium where it is taking place.
Regarding your rejection of FB as an absolute filter, it remains true that FB decides which posts in your FB group it will show to people, and which ones it won't.
Only if members stay on their regular Facebook feed. If you have a tight group, people go directly to the group page.
If they go directly to the page, FB will still apply its filter to the posts in that group.
> there are no tools that don't require a person to fight medium.
Perhaps, but there are tools that don’t make it practically impossible to find out what your opponent actually tried to say to you. I have been in the situation multiple times of doing everything I can on FB to make sure I read everything that was written in a thread prior to responding but still failed. This is what I mean when I say FB is intent on it. The design makes it impossible, whether that was the aim or not.
Edited to add: It’s no surprise that this leads to greater “engagement,” but it is obviously counterproductive to actual debate.
Perhaps if you scroll far enough it will show you every post in a group. Most people don’t. FB chooses what to show them from the group. That’s the filter.
As for not showing every comment, I am positive it has happened to me a few times that an important comment just doesn’t show up in the thread until after several others have been left. I have assumed it is because they are using a database that doesn’t guarantee a SELECT gives every record, but who knows.
As far as I can tell, FB group view, what you see when go "to" the group page, shows posts in the order of who last commented on the post. It's a much more reliable view than the feed, which indeed can show posts from anywhere in any order.
I think you're right that Facebook sometimes does just fail to show some comments at some points. The thing here is that any world wide distributed system on the scale of Facebook will sometimes do that. I don't believe there's any algorithmic manipulative intention involved here. (as opposed to the feed, which indeed is something like Facebook's spin on things).
And with Facebook's feed, even. Yes, it's filter of your friends' comments and links and a filter with a spin on it. But what is the contents of the average minor metropolitan newspaper? 90% of it is a filter of the wire service feed with a particular spin to it.
> what you see when go "to" the group page, shows posts in the order of who last commented on the post.
But that is itself a decision to elevate conflict and hide things that don’t generate conflict, unless there are an extraordinarily small number of posts in the group or it is just a small size. Because every time you visit the page you start at the top. And you get sucked into the “high-engagement” content before you get to it.
> I think the hostility these entities face today expresses a situation of them not having a tighter grip (at least a much tighter grip) on the public imagination...
The issue isn't a grip on our imaginations, it's the grip on our data (including off-site traffic thanks to ubiquitous trackers) that seems objectionable. And when it's the only way to talk to your grandma, for example, it's maddeningly difficult for a lot of people to quit
You have 3-4 different groups talking about "what the problem is" with FB and Google. Some talk about the kind of conversations they facilitate, some talk about how they undermine traditional experts, some talk about how they take data.
And for some the answer is monk-like isolation and simplicity, some the answer is imposing state control over these entities, for some the answer is limiting data entities can keep.
The thing that's frustrating is the only effect that has legs is the worst one - states directly regulating social media and the views there-in. It's unfortunate others with other complaints attach themselves to a process heading in this direction.
As a musician, I'm sad to see that social media are almost exclusively visual. Very few browse their feeds with sound on, videos have subtitles, and any audio content needs a big "SOUND ON" banner to even have a chance of being heard. Music streaming services have all but sunsetted their (admittedly lame) social features and focus on their "1-click mood/activity-based background music" experience. Music fans are relegated to toxic echo chambers like reddit.
I recently heard someone say "music was central to youth culture from 1965 to 2005, but that is no longer the case". I can't help but think it has to do with the 'social media on smartphones' experience, the medium is the message and so forth.
The music industry have undoubtedly contributed to that. You can't put music in video content without risking takedowns. Or have it in a stream. You're not allowed to have a music culture in fixed recordings.
(I'm a long way from youth culture myself, but I get the impression that what we have now is not "culture" but "cultures"; rather than a single convenient for historians "scene" per time period, all sorts of scenes exist at once. You can't tell me that kpop stans aren't a global youth culture, posting their fancams all over the place. Now wondering if that contradicts what I said above..)
The music industry's culpability in this is even greater than their absurdly litigious approach to intellectual property.
Consider how music videos came to be, in a world where the music industry was struggling to stay relevant in an era of CGI-laden PG-13 Hollywood cinema, arcades, home video, and cable television. Music videos were a way for the music industry to get in on the advertisement and product placement action, from which all the other forms of media were able to profit.
Now that most valuable music today has a very strong brand identity, targeted demographics, a tried-and-true promotional formula, and many times even a full-on music video to go with it, the industry perceives it as a true risk for someone to hear a song and not see the "approved" visuals to go along with that song.
> The music industry have undoubtedly contributed to that.
We're really generally talking about megacorporations here, and thinking of them as within any particular industry is unintentionally deceptive. Best to think of them as the wide-ranging financial institutions they are. Very few musicians have any power in the music industry.
I'd go with saying what we're talking about here is a range of products, not a culture or cultures.
> I get the impression that what we have now is not "culture" but "cultures"; rather than a single convenient for historians "scene" per time period, all sorts of scenes exist at once.
I believe this has been true for some time. I remember noticing it in the late 90s, but I suspect that it may have always been so, that the stereotypes of a particular era may have been our simplifications rather than their truths.
If there are any real historians here, I’d be interested if my belief is true or false.
True, although I would say the content would be even more pointless without the video - the main idea is clearly to present yourself visually. My daughter uses it a lot and an interesting side effect is that she knows a lot of music I didn't expect her to know (various 90's hits etc), but she only knows the hook/chorus or whatever 10-20 second part is used on tiktok.
There's a VERY good reason for that. I can just about stomach autoplay videos, with all their network stuttering and CPU hogging on mobile. At least I can scroll past them. I can't do the same for audio.
Browser makes have had to expend considerable effort to rein in the abuse potential of autoplay videos and tabs that emit sound. Loudness wars made mainstream music lose dynamic range for more than a decade. Advertisers never gave up, they still grab every opportunity to hog attention - and what better way than to come with an audio clip that BLOWS YOUR EARDRUMS?
The reason audio is so disruptive is that we humans process written text with the same parts of the brain we use to process speech. Music with any vocals will interfere with reading. And loud audio from a random ad is enough for us to close the entire browser rather than try to hunt for the tab causing the noise.
You are right, medium is the message. I'm sorry that your medium has been hijacked by parasites and highway robbers.
What about Soundcloud and Spotify? Were there more people actively listening to music before the internet? Maybe more that actively listened to full albums, but I find the music community to be pretty vibrant and diverse, albeit in a very stressful situation right now.
I feel like that is a very optimistic view of social media channels. One of the things that would bug me is when I would tell a fan they should listen to the new album by X. They would go on Pandora and say "play X". They would get a hit song by X (or a song Pandora thought fit their tastes) and then also a bunch of songs by Y and Z. Who knows why it picked Y and Z? Because it was already people they listened to? It was like music they were listening to and Pandora didn't really have a reason to broaden their tastes? What if it was because some songs are cheaper to stream than others?
I have become disillusioned with Social Media as a discovery tool, compared to trusted recommendations or just random sampling.
A serious thesis, but I feel one that reflects on a transitional mode.
Just as the all-in-one context collapse spurred a revival of context (unified FB -> Snapchat/finstas et al), the earlier primitive TV news of the 60s and 70s and RSS feeds of late 99/early 00s rapidly broke into more structured channels, today using filtering and aggregation — my RSS feed is broken into synthetic “channels” specifically for this reason. People settle into a mode they like; “all-in” providers of content become context as well; Fox has an older demographic reflecting not only comfort with a familiar delivery mode but also a context.
And the medium-type segregation that Carr describes (newspaper vs magazine vs LP records) certainly remains: FB is no threat to Netflix or Prime video, much less vice versa (and see the fox reference above). FB and Twitter May have killed the short blog post but hardly the long ones.
A subset of the authors point is the "truth collapse".
It's increasingly difficult to differentiate truth from falsehood. Also increasingly difficult to differentiate between truth and 'almost' truth.
A further problem, likely in the future will be 'source collapse'.
It will be increasingly difficult to determine the actual source of news, with unlimited sharing and distribution. Add in to this mix of chaos AI generated news articles, it may well be possible that people will shun internet news altogether.
Today, a common "good" chain of custody of facts is a broken game of telephone that's hard to unwind anyways. How often on social media do you see something like someone on reddit/fb/wherever posting an article reporting on a mainstream publications's article reporting on a scientific study of some phenomenon. And then most people will still only read the headline, which is probably going to turn "Effects of blahblazine on rat tissue in petri dishes" into "Scientists say coffee makes you live longer."
If that's the best the ecosystem can do to report on good science, what hope is there? Reality is almost always nuanced, but nuance doesn't go viral, and everything has to go viral to bubble up to visibility.
>It's increasingly difficult to differentiate truth from falsehood. Also increasingly difficult to differentiate between truth and 'almost' truth.
Our decreasing ability to recognize truth is merely a consequence - and we've never been great at it anyway. It is the concept of consideration that is crumbling.
A lot of people either don't take the time (wilfully or not) or simply don't have the ability to reason out their interaction with a sample of information before they accept and internalize that event as is. Especially the appeal of social exchange pulls in even the sturdiest critical thinkers to make an immediate judgment and an emotional investment. That is then the trap which forms our digital and eventually real life bubbles.
The Information Age demands a strong familiarity with our own flaws, our behavioural, cognitive psychology, and sociological tendencies in particular. Since that is by far not the case, we've become a lot more vulnerable to self- and external manipulation. That is why content collapse has had such a negative impact on society.
> A subset of the authors point is the "truth collapse". It's increasingly difficult to differentiate truth from falsehood. Also increasingly difficult to differentiate between truth and 'almost' truth.
It's kinda hard for there to be, in actuality and in an objective sense, a destruction of truth when, really, truth never existed in the first place except as a perspective-based pragmatic tool and even a self-actualized Other-being. Really, when one person claims that truth is becoming destroyed or something, such occurence is actually an instance of a contest of truths, all equally valid, in essence, with the one that has the most ambition able to enjoy the fruit of victory. That's why "fake news" is often touted: a transgressive action on its antithesis and opponent that is the "false."
If truth didn't exist, we wouldn't be able to communicate with each other. Language would be meaningless like a randomly generated sequence of words conforming to a grammar.
There would be no measure of consistency between statements, and there would be no predictable link to empirical observations. Without truth, our species would never have developed language in the first place, because what's the point in evolutionary terms?
Speaking always means to make a commitment at least to some degree. That doesn't mean it's always possible to establish the truth value of everything that's being said or that someone must always be right and someone else must always be wrong.
How do you know that there is a communication going on and in what absolute sense does it occur, without resorting to any certain sense as certainty always comes up short, never converging to actual truth and is, therefore, not suitable for matters of truth. Any meaning given to any instance of language depends on subjective based grammars that give life to words, indeed conforming to a regime of, ultimately synthesized, grammars which don't exist without a subject of self-governing origination. Every measure of consistency requires a necessary foundation, with the foundation always being some imagined standard based on certainty, that commonly found tool of the mind that never really tells you anything. The emprical, material, and even biology and its evolutionary theories? Knowledge of their objects always depends on interpretation and interpretation is always not objective but instead subjective. And for there to be a commitment, there must be a personality. But personality is, logically, dependent on a regime of truth and it is codified by the user of this regime—a mess of endless self-reference, as truth is wont to do. Really, at this rate, I'll eventually converge to the truth that there is no truth, that real truth is not, instead of being is. Indeed, I'm going one truth further.
Perhaps it comes down to how we define truth. Truth, for me, is not some sort of ontological object as the word "exists" may imply, and it requires nothing absolute.
Truth is an artifact of communication as experienced by those who are communicating. It's the semantic non-randomness in language. We share expectations regarding the consistency between statements and the degree to which language predicts empirical observations.
If none of those expectations are met, i.e when all truth is gone, then language loses its function.
Indeed, since truth does not exist, language and communication is impossible. But the truth predicate for propositions isn't necessary, as truth doesn't exist to legitimately create a legitimate need for any sort of necessity. So, instead of searching for the truth predicate, and as grammar and syntax, those subjective and arbitrary creators of languages and communications, are the ultimate sources of meaning rather than any inherent meaning itself, why not look for something else? Or establish something else? Like untruth and uncertainty?
I think it's a mistake to assume that two people are communicating with each other just because they're saying the same words. Some of the worst things that have ever happened to me have been the result of people thinking they are in agreement despite having totally different ideas behind those words in their heads, and in retrospect I would have rather had arguments.
I'm sorry to hear about these bad outcomes from misunderstandings. One useful tool I picked up from Nonviolent Communication (NVC) that might help you is to request the other person repeat back in their own words what they heard you say/request. It definitely feels clunky because we don't typically ask this of people. Proactively as the listener you can offer to summarize the thoughts or request of the speaker to make sure you really received what they were saying, and ask if there's any part of it they want to clarify. "Let me make sure I understood you. What I heard you say was..." Maybe a useful analogy is to think of it as the md5sum of the exchange. I don't tend to find arguments clarifying because true listening breaks down (further).
> There may be many perspectives to a truth, but there is always a singular absolute truth. Something that can be objectively stated, without judgement.
I can't imagine how one could find these truths without using judgment. That's like trying to figure out how long something is without a ruler.
edit: And there's no way of being sure which of the things you found were true, or which which were just artifacts of the measuring device one used to find them. One would have to pay a visit to the ruler factory and start the process all over again.
The things one can say about reality don't actually describe reality, they are a subjective human narrative created as a tool to meet human needs that any singular absolute truth ignores without comment.
Interesting. But I'm skeptical about the existence of an absolute truth. Because, ultimately, what would be the essence of what it is, truth? And why would it exist? What source would be the source of this truth, ultimately? And how would we know, especially as truth implies untruth and therefore the possibly of cognitive error?
> there is always a singular absolute truth. Something that can be objectively stated...
In incredibly simple scenarios perhaps, but for most things it seems to me that there are simply too many interrelated variables and perspectives involved for a "single truth" (that is perceivable by a human mind) to exist, let alone be communicated with high fidelity. And this is even if one assumes that we are aware of and able to accurately measure all the relevant variables, which is not even close to true.
> What you are talking about variables seems to be about partially revealed truth. Even in that case, a partially revealed truth can be stated as such, showing what variables are fully known and what are unknown.
For simple scenarios, perhaps.
> Curious about your idea of supposed complex examples where its not objectively possible to state the truth.
The United States is systemically racist.
We should (or should not) extend the coronavirus lockdown in the US.
Donald Trump is a white supremacist.
Joe Biden is attracted to young girls.
Decoupling from the Chinese economy is good for India in the long run.
Global warming is real and primarily man-made.
We should get our news from respectable media outlets.
Democratic capitalism is the best system for managing a society.
We should trust scientists and ignore theologians.
>Something that can be objectively stated, without judgement.
You can't always find the objective truth. Was Trump _really_ joking when he suggested people drink bleach? You can conclude with reasonable certainty that he was or wasn't based on his previous patterns of action or whatever, but the only way to truly know what he meant is to be him. And your interpretation of his previous actions will necessarily be incomplete: there's always going to be something that you don't know about that could potentially change your interpretation, and each event in his history that you base your interpretation on will have to be analyzed with the same amount of rigor. It's possibly for a person to perform this analysis, that's a biographer's entire job, but to do it for every person in current events, for every situation, for every conflict and incident is impossible.
So yes, there is an objective truth, but you can't always be certain that you know it. If you're not dedicating your entire career to analyzing one thing then you'll have to rely on heuristics, and those heuristics will be built on top of your knowledge and analysis of past things which are also based on heuristics, which are based on more heuristics, etc. Those heuristics, the way you analyze and interpret events, are only as important as the information available to you for you to build upon. If your primary source of information is Fox News then your heuristics will be that of course the President was joking, but if your heuristics are based on information from HuffPo then you'll come to the opposite conclusion. If you want to reject your heuristics and find the truth based on first principles, or at least come as close to the truth as possible, you'll need to do quite a bit of research into the issue, and by the time you've finished there'll be another five things the President has said for you to find the truth of.
It's simply impossible to determine the truth of current events without using heuristics and avoid falling behind, but those heuristics are based on known truth only indirectly. Does there exist an objective truth? Yes, but it can't be found in a reasonable amount of time. It's much more important to focus on the heuristics people use to determine truth for themselves.
Postscript: algorithmic newsfeeds that optimize for engagement are optimizing for inevitable unconcious biases, confirmation bias in particular, and are great for biasing your heuristics unfairly. I'm not saying the truth is always somewhere in the middle, but I am saying that if your heuristics are always skewed to one side you won't be able to recognize when your heuristics are leading you astray and when the truth is in fact in the middle or even the other side. If you get anything out of this, at least try to figure out what echo chambers you're in and look outside of them.
It was alright. I’m a big fan of Stephenson, and I can see what he was trying to do with it, but the main plot line of the book just wasn’t that interesting to me. Parts of the side plot felt almost prophetic, though - he draws out some contemporary trends in ways that feel frighteningly plausible.
Agreed on the modal user, but two quibbles:
(a) how often does anyone follow secondary sources that are only a few months old?
(b) it is less trivial to create new primary sources. (not that publishers are in the habit of giving easily followed references)
Zuckerberg's approach might actually work if people were universally accepting, but it does not match up with reality as it is, where behaviour that is acceptable in one culture/subculture might get you ostracised, shunned or even killed in another.
I have read posts on Facebook help pages from people who have had to deal with the consequences of Facebook forcibly breaking down the walls between a person's mutually exclusive cliques, e.g. a girl complaining that hijab-less photos of her posted and tagged by her friends were appearing on the Facebook feed of her conservative Islamic family members (the pre-approval option for tagging only controls whether it appears on your Wall; posts you are tagged in can still appear on your friends' feed even they are not directly friends with the poster).
I have always wondered why Facebook designed it this way, or why they did not fix it, since they already know all about your cliques. Zuckerberg's comment suggests that they had almost an ideological reason for it.
The other example that comes up a lot is people who are gay and haven't come out to their families/hometowns yet.
But look, I don't have a complicated social life, and I still can't fathom this idea that you share the exact same same stuff with all friends/co-workers/family/acquaintances.
There are some people I talk about politics to and some I don't, some people I talk to about music or books and some I don't, some people I talk to about technology and MANY I never would.
So Facebook became the lowest common denominator of what I was willing to share: my dog. He's a good boy.
Anyway my feed withered down to everyone's lowest common denominator (pets, travel photos, some children, often just nothing) and a few vocal armchair activists do didn't get the memo. Which in some ways is great, it's so boring I can just deactivate my account on a whim.
The cynic side of me says that the motives are actually financial. If you exhibit contradictory interests in the data Facebook gathers on you for its advertisers, then that data might be less valuable.
The ostensible reason was ideological, but the underlying reason might well be an attempt to boost “engagement” and assert greater power over users (which could then be milked in various ways, eg: targeted messaging and selective sharing)
"I've talked to Mark about integrity. His understanding of the subject is limited." - Fake Quote, 2020
I think it's rather that we have one identity and different aspects of this identity show when interacting with different people (think: projection of a higher-dimensional object onto a lower-dimensional screen).
That is exactly how I think about it. I'm not lying to anybody in my presentation to them, but I do choose which aspects to present. They are true aspects, but I don't blast young kids with my interests in number theory, my children with my interests in the philosophy of communication ethics, HN with what funny thing happened to my dog last night, my parents with the details of how I'm designing a subsystem at work, my wife with the foreign language I'm studying... because what would be the point of that?
The amount that I'm really trying to hide from somebody is fairly small for me... your mileage may legitimately vary for any number of reasons... but selectivity is still necessary to function. Even if I were perfectly content with absolutely everybody in my life seeing a total stream of everything, none of them would want it.
This is primarily what made it so I never got on Facebook, and for most of Facebook's life, what kept me off of it. Now you couldn't pay me enough to get on it for other reasons, but those are more recent. This is the ur-reason. I already had multiple online personas and no interest in collapsing them.
Maybe, although I've noticed that the group I'm in can influence my thinking and reactions.
I think it's possible a group can form a sort of "exoself" and allow you to believe and perceive different things than you usually might.
Not a sociologist, just anecdata. I suppose you could still consider this a lensing effect (aka your whole self includes this subset) but I'm tempted to see the group as a sort of extension or prosthesis.
This is why actual honest-to-god diversity matters in tech. Anyone from any background except Wealthy White Stanford Grad could tell you immediately what was wrong with that sentence. Zuckerberg runs a company whose policies affect roughly a third of the planet by population - there's a moral obligation to be better than this.
Agree- people can be complex. I would also argue that having multiple identities could be a sign of integrity. Assuming that you are acting in good faith, it may be good to try ideas under a hidden/separate identity. Having the freedom to make mistakes and not worry about your permanent record following you can help you grow. Or, maybe you live in a country with a government that doesn’t take criticism well(for that matter recent news has proven that some companies don’t either). Is it a sign of integrity to not spread what could be legitimate criticism? Whistleblowers?
Are identity minimalists (Zuckerberg, Facebook) mistaking the is of legal personhood, and its one-to-one mapping to individual humans in real life, for their own ought, which presupposes that virtual identities should also map to named individuals in real life?
The word "integrity" has a positive connotation, but it doesn't simply mean "goodness". It also means consistency. In that sense, it makes sense to call the way we act differently in front of different audiences a "lack of integrity".
So, I agree the statement is a bit robotic (specifically because it points out a natural part of human behavior as a character flaw), but not that it's twisted.
> Now all information belongs to a single category, and it all pours through a single channel.
It may not be relevant to the article but I think context collapse is a good way of describing the issues with online meetings. In a conference room you can sit next to people who share your interests or who you feel comfortable with. You may whisper in someone's ear about something that is relevant to the current discussion. You can direct your attention at someone by physically turning towards them and use the volume of your voice and body language to control who is consuming your vocal and physical channels of information.
That is just to say the problem that information channels are being condensed is not limited to social media. I think a lot of the points from the article about information competitiveness and trivialization can apply to other areas where information channels are collapsing. Also let me know if you can think of any other examples.
Great essay. This guy nails it, although I think his scholarly approach misses some key ramifications. (I'm also not sure I like "content collapse", since there's nothing unusual happening here, just everything all at once, but that's a fight for another day)
I've been kicking around this problem since 2009 and I keep getting back to different physical devices for different social contexts. It's not just that the contexts are different; it's that we need to use our bodies to show ourselves and others that we are moving into some different context. Otherwise the "programming" doesn't work.
The fundamental error here is thinking that all human communication can collapse to data. That's wrong in a ton of ways, but the idea has a helluva powerful following among us nerd.
I think you are right about distinct devices. I use a phone and computers owned by my employer for professional activities, and a different phone and personally owned computers for my private interests. There is, of course, uncomfortable bleeding between the two, e.g., health insurance e-mails going to my empolyee account that gets forwarded to my private e-mail account. Just part of the insanity of employer based health care.
> In discussing the appeal of the News Feed in that same interview with Kirkpatrick, Zuckerberg observed, “A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.” The statement is grotesque not because it’s false — it’s completely true — but because it’s a category error. It yokes together in an obscene comparison two events of radically different scale and import. And yet, in his tone-deaf way, Zuckerberg managed to express the reality of content collapse. When it comes to information, social media renders category errors obsolete.
I find the criticism of Zuckerberg here to completely unwarranted. Zuckerberg is completely correct, and he is not making a category error. In fact "yoking together in an obscene comparison two events of radically different scale and import" is precisely what allows Zuckerberg's point to be so salient. I'm unsure how the author could come to the conclusion that Z, the one who originally clearly demonstrated this point, somehow did not understand it as he was making it.
So the context collapse of early social media ultimately led to context restoration. Why does the author never propose that content collapse might lead to content restoration? After all, I'm choosing to consume this content through the lens of hacker news for a reason.
Infinite content being firehosed to a content consumption bandwidth constrained population (still 24 hours in a day).
The whole consumption model changes - most folks end up drinking from the firehose by very lightly skimming an incredible width of content (even those it is narrow in sense that it is within the confines of the social network algorithms), while never deeply engaging, and rarely going outside their sweet spot.
Then the consumption model changes the supply side. And we loop. What breaks this loop?
Good point. And $ focused on exponential growth communities consuming content paid for by the attention of the content consumers. Rather than $ focused on long tail communities and deeper, more expensive, more difficult to monetize (per unit cost) content.
Interestingly, content collapse was one of the most salient ideas I took away from reading Fahrenheit 451. Of course, the book took it to an extreme that will never become a reality.. Social media may be incentivized to keep their users within the system and feed them short headlines that satisfy their question of "what's going on in the world today" via content collapse. But I don't see this spreading to all forms of content on the internet/devices. Online publishers, digital advertisers, brands, and even Google rely on medium to longform content for their business models. Caveats abound, but from my perspective, the internet runs on articles.
"Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: now at last you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbords."
Superb piece. The ideas are pretty great but what really stands out is that the guy can write, beautifully. So often people have great ideas but little ability to express them, so it's nice when both happen at once..
To an extent I think the web provides separate contexts for information. I go to certain websites to find news and others to find entertainment. I'm intentional about it. For aggregator sites like Reddit, separate feeds (multireddits) are possible if you spend an extra 10 minutes to configure them.
Most social media makes it easy for people to land in one place and use that as a funnel for consuming all of their information, and provides no tools for curation. True as ever, the majority of people find the lowest friction way forward. We have the tools to empower people to be careful and intentional, but only a small subset of the population actually use them. That's a behavioral issue amplified by technology, and well beyond my ability to diagnose.
I wonder about the desire to consume information wrapped up in a social context. How much of sharing an article is actually about sharing information, and how much is about presenting an identity associated with that content? When everything is your social media feed, everything is on some level about building your identity.
I want there to be technological answers to these problems, but the older I get and the longer I work with technology, the less answers I find.
> "When social media was taking shape fifteen-odd years ago..."
Maybe 5-10 years before that, if you didn't get your news from a newspaper, radio or television, then you could blissfully ignore the news. Now, because the mobile phone is small, convenient, and fun to swipe (now with more yummy haptic goodness), you can get "your news" between the alarm clock and breakfast while on the toilet.
This article disturbs me. If there is a crisis here it's growing up thinking what comes packaged with your friends birthday pics, selfies of your new do and cat picture of the day is a platform for news. 
Why is 'content collapse' not just post-hoc rationalization of the evolution of social media as a toy experience for connecting with friends to media outlet? Because the latter makes the former into a great place for businesses to place targeted ads within a local community .
Besides, I just plunked down >$500 for my new phone, and I have a >1hr commute to work--Oh wait! That was before The Thing. Now I'm baking bread, trying to keep from getting distracted working from home, and spending time with my family. hehe
: In a recent interview with John Stewart about his new film on politics, David Green asks, "I look back to "The Daily Show." And I, as a journalist, just remember being like, this is someone showing that people can get their news in an entertaining way."
Stewart. "I'm not sure. I mean, I never thought that we were delivering the news, I guess. So maybe I'm not quite - I think we were delivering criticism of it. [...] The thing that we were doing has generally been around forever, which is making fun of the powers that be and the news of the day in a satirical fashion."
This is a great perspective. I wonder if the news orgs contributed to their own collapse by pushing too many obtrusive ads. Did people start to prefer FB where they figured out how to places ads with higher returns? They might be better at it simple because they can target better too. News as example, content collapse generally.
I get the desire to convey the significance and nuance of the issues described, but the usage of collapse felt out-of-place. Something like fold, reduction, consolidation, or even condensation would have been more communicative as a takeaway from the spirit of the article.
I see the "content collapse" as a reversion to the historical norm - for most of human history, the majority of people were illiterate and uneducated, and understood little about global affairs. There was a "thinking class" which included the religious, political, and artistic elite, while everybody else was part of the "working class" - effectively peasants who knew little about the world.
The content collapse threatens to destroy the very foundation of Western democratic society - an intelligent, educated public that understands nuance and participates in civic discussion. Instead, it is creating a situation where the masses are subject to the whims of social media, much like the peasants of former times, who were often caught up in religious trends and various mob-like witch hunts.
What is new about our time, is that in democratic societies, the political elite are no longer part of the "thinking class", by necessity, because they have to win votes. Only in autocratic societies like China and Russia do the political elite tend to still speak like an educated elite. It is striking to note that Vladimir Putin spends a lot of his public time talking about detailed points in history like specific events of WWII or even medieval history (see his recent essay on WWII published in the National Interest). Regardless of whether you agree with his interpretation of history, he often talks like a professor, not a politician. Politicians in democratic countries, by contrast, rarely talk about history in nuanced terms because the public is not interested in "boring" details. The inevitable result is the massive "dumbing down" of politics that we see in our time, as the political elite becomes merged with the masses while tech and corporate elites wield the most power.
Putin's law school thesis was "The Most Favored Nation Trading Principle in International Law." Xi's was "Tentative Study of Agricultural Marketization."
(I haven't been able to quickly find Johnson's, but then again the dynamic in the 1980's Yes, Minister was of LSE-educated politicians seconded by Oxbridge civil servants. Given a capable cabinet, one might hope a democracy could elect one of their number with a median formation and still get a functional government.)
That having been said, the demagogue was a thing even in the ancient world.
Thank you. I tend to agree with de Maistre. What is striking about Russia (and Ukraine) is that the general public is far more intellectual than the American public. Two real stories to illustrate my point: If I walk into a random bar it's not uncommon for me to hear people talking about Crime and Punishment, philosophy and history. Even your local fishmonger from Murmansk might strike up a conversation about events in the Bering Strait in WWII.
I don’t find these ideas useful, in the sense of having explanatory or predictive power. To me this reads like academics, writers, and other elites who used to frame and guide discourse lamenting that discourse has been opened up such that they no longer control it. That’s not to say discourse has improved due to that shift, and I’m sure some of the deficiencies noted here are real.
But you have to ask, what do these notions of context or content collapse help us understand? More than just gussying up the claim that social media is bad. This just seems like fodder with which to sell books, hold conferences, etc. Mostly shibboleths.
This was written before the current flare-up of protests in the US (and other countries as well), which were indisputably driven by social media. I wonder if Black Lives Matter is a context collapse or a content collapse. :rolleyes:
It's a good thing. As disgusting as Zuckerberg acts, he happens to be aligned with the truth here. Presenting different faces for different audiences is unhealthy for personal growth and self-reflection.
The gatekeeper is not an issue: modulate your social media.
A friend of mine spent a week in jail because her friend posted a picture of her holding hands with her girlfriend. She had gone home to Saudi Arabia to visit a dying grandparent, and ended up saying goodbye to her whole family because it's too unsafe to return.