I Miss Surfing the Internet

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What’s the point of being able to have so much knowledge at your fingertips if you only use it to explore one perspective? I think one of the largest issues with the internet in our society today is the belief by web-based platforms that we are only interested in things that are a part of our “interests” group or user activity.

Let me explain. You’ve come across web platforms like this plenty of times at this point. As soon as you venture onto some new site, they have a list. They ask you to choose your “interests” from that list.

Now… stop.

For one second, let’s go back to the beginning of the world wide web. At the beginning of its popularity everyone surfed. I remember a time where it wasn’t cliché to simply browse the web. It wasn’t frowned upon to say that surfing the internet was your hobby. I still enjoy surfing the web. I like reading random articles about things that I would never normally read. That is the beauty of being able to go to one central source with a large pool of information. But now, web-based platforms have begun to pigeon hole you into only being able to see certain things based off the previously mentioned “interests”, or based off your past user activity. This only results in people spending more time online building strong biases to support whatever cause they care about, but only in the way they want to believe. Meaning they get to feed their beast, and they feed it even if the source isn’t valid. This happened a lot on Facebook during the last presidential election. If you want to hear things pro your presidential candidate keep clicking articles that only present positive views about him or her and Facebook will keep feeding you more of the same. The truth seldom has a place in this new web space. It is created at the perfect time, though, in a society that is self-absorbed and feels that they are much more important than they really are (sorry, I even include myself, happy?).

As we know, popular websites like YouTube have their algorithms hard at work to show you videos based off what you consistently view. The result is that you are only getting suggestions for the type of videos that their algorithm has determined that you want to see. It becomes difficult at a certain point to discover new types of content because you’re inclined to look at the first videos YouTube suggests. I understand that they are only showing them because I continually look at them, but just because a person may be interested in the NBA doesn’t mean they should be limited to only basketball videos. Maybe I would also enjoy MLB or basket weaving.

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Instagram does a similar thing. I often wonder what the discover page of other races look like because all I get is basketball and hip-hop news on my discover page. As I said before I really enjoy reading those posts (and articles), but I would like to not be placed inside a bubble and thus become a narrow-minded statistic. There are other posts that I would probably enjoy just as much from a travel page or cooking page.

The main reason I am aggravated by this is because I know that the goal for these companies is to simply keep me on their product for as long as possible. When I say keep me on, I mean lock me in for a long session every time I open the app. The only algorithmic way they know to do that is to use what users tell them they are interested in based off their past activity, or by letting the user literally tell them what they want to see via an interest list. Whatever happened to being able to just create an overall great user experience? At what point did they say it isn’t enough that people use their app they must also figure out a way to keep them on their app or site for as long as possible. Do they do it for the user experience? Or do they do it for the money?

Cigarette companies create a physically addictive product which more than often results in people being caught in the cycle of smoking cigarettes. Social media giants and popular blog platforms find out the most intimate nuances about their users because they know exactly what you like to see. They then proceed to hack your attention at the source. A total exploitation of your time, taking it beyond just data collection, to generate more cash flow for their business. And like nicotine in cigarettes it’s not far-fetched to wonder how such a practice can be deemed as legal.

Unbeknownst to most people using these apps, companies take this stuff serious. They hire PHDs whose main job is to do research to figure out how to get you addicted to their product. Do you think you even stand a chance? That’s why so many people say, “I’m going to quit social media” then before you know it, they are right back on. It’s a vicious cycle. I think everyone should understand this battle for your attention that takes place. For the blogs, social media, and news platforms attention is business. However, for the average user lending them your attention often results in a narrow scope of society and a lack of productivity.

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