“A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”

Edwin Teo  |  Singapore
Published 2016-04-13 11:10:24

Okay, don’t freak out, but… I think the internet is trying to read our minds. But maybe this is something you already know. Algorithms are taking over the world. And we kinda hate it!

Image credit: fusion.net
Image credit: fusion.net

Just look back a couple weeks ago when Instagram announced that they would be implementing algorithm to reorganise what your feed would look like so that you see more of what you like (or at least, what Instagram thinks you like), much like what Facebook has done. Everyone started getting angry at the news and flipped out, with several people requesting you turn on notifications so that you can keep track of their posts.

Speaking of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg once said this of the changes to the Facebook news feed:

“A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”

Google algorithm

Whether you agree with that statement or not, this is the state of the internet today. The internet feeds us content according to what is relevant to us instead of just giving us everything that’s out there. If you Google something and I Google something, our search results may be different because of what pages we’ve looked at in the past and our location. In a way, the internet is kind of like that controlling boyfriend that showers you with things you like, but doesn’t want you meeting anyone else.

Despite that analogy, I’m not saying algorithms giving us custom feeds is necessarily a bad thing. You get information unique to you depending on what you do and who you are as a person. And if you see more of what you like, that’s good! Right? But these algorithms come at a cost.

When an algorithm tailors content to what you like, it frequently also edits out content that it thinks you don’t like. This causes us to live inside a bubble of seeming carefreeness because we don’t tend to see what gets edited out. Especially when these edited out content are typically views that may make us uncomfortable, or views we don’t agree with, or information we don’t seek out. But if we are not challenged, we will continue to be complacent and mediocre; if we are not challenged, we will not change and learn and improve.

This also circles back around to the real reason we’re always in uproar when we find out a social network is planning to implement this sort of algorithm — We’re afraid of being edited out too. Unless you’re some sort of superstar, and chances are you’re not, there’s a chance you may be edited out to your followers, and lose your voice as a result.

The squirrel dying in my front yard may be more relevant to my interests, but I would still also like to know about people dying in Africa. And I would like to have my voice heard as well.

The internet connects people from all over the world together and introduces us to new ideas and new perspectives. But if we stay in our carefree bubble, it’s going to be very difficult to accomplish that.

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