Habitual Distractions

cascade culture, saturated timelines & your responsibility to do something about it

I am noticing a cultural shift in the ways we operate within online social networks. Found most disturbing in the dissemination of information and individual-original thought. Seriously, how do we remain blithely detached from something that we exist in at all times?

We are in a reality saturated with information. But we seem to face a growing scarcity of wisdom (that which constitutes as true knowledge) and we often confuse having more information with being more up-to-date, savvy, versed. We can believe that having access to more media produces more knowledge, which would typically result in more wisdom. The opposite is also believable: absorbing impressive loads of information without proper context can muddle understandings of events rather than enriching it. The barrage of readily available information has created an environment where everyone has an outlet and perhaps an audience for their opinions. Our culture feeds enormously on the celebrity semblance of likes and retweets gesturing well-informed stances. Too often, in order to seem knowledgeable, we form our so-called opinions hastily, based on fragmentary bits of information and cursory impressions perpetuated by unique scrolling formats.

A Social Cascade occurs when we often lack critical information, but will ingest whatever we’ve read and parallel it with our preferences and values, to then quickly share it. Making it more or less likely that many people end up thinking or doing something based on the actions of a few early “sharers” who greatly influence those who follow. When we factor in how online social mediums unite us through assorted bonds of affection, the likelihood of cascades increases. At a certain point, we can cease relying on our private information and decide on the basis of signals conveyed by others.

Once this happens, certain users have no new information circulating towards them, only whatever is “trending”.

“… and since opposing information can remain hidden, even mistaken cascades last forever. An early preponderance towards either adoption or rejection, which may have occurred by mere coincidence or for very trivial reasons, can feed upon itself.” -David Hirshleifer

Making it difficult for contributory opposition to enter a sphere of viewable information, offering veritable counter-arguments — that is so necessary in providing perspective for discernment.

So what’s my point?

Under the conditions of our society today, algorithms and corporate bias inevitably control directly or indirectly the main flow of informative mediums (press, search engines, education). And because there are endless ways to take in impressive loads of information, a side-effect of the Information Age is: the fracturing of knowledge and attention. So on one hand, the ability to access information has increased enormously, and on the other hand, the ability to remember, assimilate and work with that information is impeded.

“Thus it is extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases, quite impossible for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions, and to make intelligent use of their political rights” — Einstein.

What I’ve noticed, is that we are either purveying data, consuming it, or a combination of both; for yourself, your network, your job, et cetera.. But do other people think about this? The general hash-tagging, retweeting, always on, internet using We, do we know this information? What does it matter if we don’t?

It matters if we desire any transparency in the workings of our devices, or our infotainment sources. The digital culture is problematic if it impels an assumption that those with vetted opinions (likes, retweets, higher follower counts..) are assumed to be acting from independent knowledge, when in fact, they may be following a social cascade.

It is clear — with time, the effects of technology may only increase — bringing forth several questions: How did this technology arise? Where did it originate, and where is it headed?

How do we distinguish the harmful and useful effects of technology, if we’re too distracted to intelligibly apprehend the paradox?

I propose that we observe how we (personally) are being influenced by media; at least begin to be critical of our diligent usage and the reasons why.

Only then, can we discourse to confidently upend the harmful individual and societal effects of techno-social mediums.