Rage against the algorithm: how can we maintain cognizance?

We spend hours passively absorbing an array of images until — unsurprisingly — we change the view we hold of ourselves.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

We’re heads down, wide-eyed, bathed in a soft, blue glow; we’re escorted through a multiverse assembled by algorithms and routinely squirted with dopamine. Happy little vegetables.

Lightning in a bottle

You probably know about echo-chambers and Machiavellian political campaigns (watch The Great Hack on Netflix for a deeper analysis). We largely accept that corporations clamber for our likes, dislikes, and our inner-most desires because they want us to spend longer looking at ads. But as we learn more about the addictive designs of modern tech (see also The Social Dilemma and Screened Out), it’s tempting to toss our phones aside and live in a cave eating berries. We don’t, though.

Previous generations had their heads warped by telly, (and I say this as I doff my flat-cap and shake a walking stick) but at least they knew where to find the off switch. Nowadays, our phones, tablets, computers, TVs, radios, games systems, even our refrigerators are hooked up to cyclic, habit-forming apps that not only know where we are, but aim to morph, if not completely control the way we think.

The only respite from this kind of noise is a disciplined and quiet mind. We used to let ourselves get bored. Now, downtime can be instantly dodged by liking a muscle-clad chap on Instagram. This invariably leads to more, and then hundreds, if not thousands of six-packs, biceps, glutes, and bare-chested distractions popping up left, right, and centre. Add cats into the mix and I’m gone for hours. But it takes two to tango.

Putting on a show

Remember, the content we see is overwhelmingly user-generated. We’re always-on, trading faux-approval. Self-made studs, THOTS, business gurus, and supermoms unwittingly facilitate a blinkered perspective on life. No matter how orchestrated, we still want what they’re having (even if that happens to be a secret mental breakdown). But if we think about it for longer than a ‘reel’, we don’t have the same lives or experiences as others because we have different priorities.

The choices that are best for us may lead to less photogenic advantages, unaccompanied by a bajillion likes or surreptitious eggplant emojis. What’s the benefit in posting so regularly, except to remind people we exist? And is it even possible to show our true nature online? In real life, we take the bins out and worry about the economy. Online, we’re in a breathless race to be seen — and to be seen, we need everybody else online too. It’s never-ending.

Slow and steady wins the race

We’ve altered our outlook entirely as a result of this constant, self-administered pummelling. As we’re unlikely to switch off our phones, we should aim to maintain cognizance while we’re on them.

  • Take control from the algorithm. Avoid its hypnosis. Don’t fall into rabbit holes on YouTube, set time limits, and search with intent.
  • Think about what we post. Ask if it feels genuine or useful (versus elusive or dishonest). ‘Would I post this a week from now?’
  • Search beyond our echo chambers. Seek views that oppose our own and think of ways we might bridge the gap.
  • Enjoy content wholeheartedly, not fleetingly. If we forget the things we’ve seen after a few minutes or hours, we’re chewing gum. Focus.
  • Credit creators. Ask artists to pursue the projects they care about. Send messages, not emojis — and most of all, be kind.
  • Make things. For your own pleasure.

Tech giants have a responsibility to create ethical products and encourage social cohesion. Apps should be less invasive and more human — not less empathetic and more robotic.

We have to win these daily, smaller fights to show that we know what they’re doing to us — and we don’t like it.

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