Social media algorithms care only that you're engaged. They exist to advertise. Everything else is a side-effect. RSS lets you ditch the machine and build your own feed from trusted sources. #indieweb #politics #technology
Quite a few years ago, for personal reasons, I decided to drop out of major social media platforms. This was just at the time when those platforms truly started to take over the world, so the whole thing more or less passed me by as I watched from the sidelines. As a result, it wasn’t until very recently that I came to appreciate just how much these platforms have become the primary way that people run across content online.
Of course, this really shouldn’t be surprising. Once upon a time, the internet was made up of an untold number of websites, big and small. And this posed a real problem of content discovery. Sure, we managed. We managed with search engines, and bookmarks, and web portals, and other ad hoc technologies. But it was a huge pain.
Today, this same kind of content discovery is done on social media platforms, with content pushed to the consumer by machine learning algorithms that optimize for “engagement”, which is a technical term for “time spent on the service”.
On its face this would seem like a good thing! After all, if you’re engaged, that must mean you’re delighted by what you see!
But the reality is a lot more complicated. Yes, certainly the things that delight us will keep us engaged. But so do the things that make us outraged, or offended, or jealous. And the algorithm can’t tell the difference. So whether you’re clicking on a link because you want to see a picture of a large cat in a small box, or you want to read an outrageous article about how the world is really flat, it’s all the same to the machine.
The result is an algorithmic filter bubble that often serves to misinform, usually while making us miserable.
On the other hand, those algorithms really do provide a useful function: They push interesting content to us so we don’t have to go and seek it out. The problem is, we have no control over how they function.
Well, as you can probably guess, I’m here to tell you that there is an alternative, and it’s a technology that’s almost as old as the web itself: RSS.Continue reading...
So, did everyone else but me know what a “filibuster” is? Ever since the appointment of Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, around which there was much talk of filibusters, banning filibusters in the senate, and so forth, I’ve wondered, what on earth were they talking about? Well, as usual, Wikipedia came to the rescue. Specifically Filibuster.
Now, I always knew that governmental procedure was often silly. I mean, how else can you get a bunch of politicians to actually get something done than to strap them down with a bunch of bizarre rules and regulations? Well, I gotta say, the filibuster takes the cake. To quote:
“a filibuster is an attempt to extend debate upon a proposal in order to delay or completely prevent a vote on its passage”
So, traditionally, to filibuster something, all you do is talk. And talk. And talk a whole bunch more! And in the US this is made even easier because, as it turns out, senatorial speeches need not cover the topic at hand! So you can literally pontificate about anything. In fact, you can even “[read] from the telephone directory” if you like. The only limit is your personal endurance! And the current record? Held by Strom Thurmond, who set a record of 24 hours and 18 minutes while attempting to filibuster the 1957 Civil Rights Act. How’s that for tenacity?
And, as a Canadian, I can feel proud knowing that we, too, have contributed to the glorious history of the filibuster. Back during the pre-megacity days in Ontario, the Liberals and NDP, in an attempt to filibuster the megacity merger proposal, actually pioneered a new form of filibuster by “[introducing] 11,500 amendments to the megacity bill, created on computers with mail merge functionality”. Now that’s what I call innovation!
So my sis, wife and I went to Thank You For Smoking last night. Definitely a movie worth seeing. The movie follows the trials and tribulations of a tobacco lobbiest, and is entertaining, scathing, and more than a bit surprising.
Now, when I originally heard about this movie, I made the (natural, I think) assumption that it was going to be a scathing commentary on the tobacco industry. And it was definitely that. But it exceeded my expectations in that it also poked fun at the government, embodied by a rabid anti-tobacco senator from Wisconsin played by the always excellent William H. Macy, and the media, represented by an ambitious reporter portrayed by none other than Katie Holmes.
And the ultimate message of the movie surprised me even more. Rather than focusing on the evils of smoking, or the tobacco industry, it took the higher ground, focusing on the issue of personal choice. Through the actions of the ridiculous senator, and the words of Nick Naylor, our “morally flexible” anti-hero portrayed by a surprising Aaron Eckhart (yes, of The Core fame), the movie really speaks out against an apathetic public who is unwilling, or perhaps no longer capable of thinking for themselves. It implores people to inform themselves and to make their own decisions, and to guide their own children to do the same, rather than relying on the government or the media to do it for them. A message I think is long overdue.
But what surprised me the most is, in the end, I found myself rooting for Nick Naylor. For some reason, I just can’t help cheering for the underdog, even if he is representing the tobacco industry…
And on a totally unrelated note, I finally updated my list of Knitting Projects. I think it’s relatively complete, now…
So our benevolent provincial Conservative goverment (I live in Alberta, aka, Texas of the North) has decided to take 1.4 billion dollars of the provincial budget surplus (generated by a healthy dose of oil and gas tax revenue) and hand it out to the average Albertan, to the tune of $400 for every man, woman, and child, in the form of a Prosperity_Bonus (yes, even Wikipedia has an article on this topic). Translation: I get 400 big ones!
Now, forget the fact that this is, in my estimation, the stupidest thing I can imagine to do with the money (see the Futurama episode “300 Big Ones” for a great satire on this whole situation). Forget the fact that the money could probably be better invested in health care, education, or heck, even squirreled away for when our resources finally do run out. Forget all that. The real issue, now, is: how do I blow this money most effectively?
Some, like these folks, might attempt to get me to donate my money to so-called “charities”. Pfft. Yeah right! I live in Alberta! I’m here to help one charity and one charity only: The Support Brett Kosinski foundation! Others might say, use it to pay bills! But that seems, to say the least, overly practical. Not to mention mature, responsible, and a whole host of other adjectives that I really try to distance myself from.
Frankly, I think the obvious thing would be to blow the money on some useless trinket that would provide me with somewhere between 20 minutes and a half hour of enjoyment before I got bored and lock onto the next bright, shiny object to catch my eye. And who knows, I might do this anyway! But, in theory, I should try to get something with a little longevity. Then again, I could just spend a day drinking 100 cups of coffee. Damn, I hate these kinds of hard decisions.
On another note, the money from these bonus cheques is exempt from taxation. Now, according to Prosperity_Bonus, the government is managing this by labelling the money as a refund due to an overpayment of taxes. At this point, I asked myself, if that’s the case, why not just give everyone in the province a tax cut that would amount to the same thing? And then it dawned on me. A tax cut, once performed, is coded into law, and is difficult to change. However, with the ‘prosperity cheque’ scheme, the government can adjust the size of the bonus from year to year based on the size of the budgetary surplus. Consequently, should the province have, say, a bad year, they don’t have to pass an ugly, nasty tax hike. Instead, they just reduce the size of the bonus. Clever, eh? :)
Additionally, this bonus cheque scheme is fairly progressive, in that it benefits families and those with lower incomes. Of course, one could achieve the same with a progressive tax cut (ie, focus the cut on the lower tax brackets), but, of course, there are political ramifications from this (and it wouldn’t be very Conservative, now would it? :), which is not the case with the bonus cheques.