Posts in category 'politics'

  • RSS: A Better News Feed

    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.

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  • 400 Big Ones!

    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.