Say No to the Algorithm Gods
Why social media is becoming the new blog and that’s bad.
I’ve blogged consistently since 2004. A variety of topics from angry seminary student and pastor-in-training explaining why the American Church is anathema. Later in 2007, I switched to post-seminary pastor focusing on leadership, theology, and productivity.
Now, I blog on whatever interests me. It could be the family, the writing craft, latest book projects, theology, technology, art, productivity, book reviews, or silly church signs I find along the journey. My blog is now a digital scrapbook for documenting life under the sun. An extension of what I’m thinking about, trying to understand, reading, or creating.
In the heyday of blogging from the early 2000s to 2008, blogs were a platform for people to share a bit of their lives, expertise, or something in between.
Now, blogging and personal websites are giving way to yes, you know, social media. Blogs are no longer documenting family trips and thoughts on your favorite band. The cemetery of neglected blogs is growing and growing with every new social media platform.
Social media is becoming the new blogging.
Is this good?
Yes, and no. Yes, people can still share family photos, favorite recipes, and interesting links to articles. Not a problem.
If the spirit should move you, share your thoughts on God, politics, or why your favorite football team needs new ownership. Freedom of speech makes America great.
But just like blogging platforms that used to be seemingly innocent with people sharing their photos from their trip to Canada. Now social media is a place where trolls and other sociopaths congregate to give their harsh critique on any opinion given from the existential things of God, philosophy, and politics, to why your opinions on movies are way off.
Sometimes this has a place, most of the time it leads nowhere good.
Before social media people did the hard work of finding and engaging with the content, they found interesting and important. You loaded up your RSS feed with blogs and websites you read on a regular basis. You controlled the content.
Social media is now algorithm based. You’re fed the things the gods of the algorithm think you will enjoy based on your likes, comments, and searches. We are no longer in control.
So now, our consumption of content from the social webs is determined on an outside force. This doesn’t mean we don’t have control of who we follow or not. But your feed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is driven by the algorithm machine.
Again, this doesn’t mean we have to interact, like, and comment on what comes into our social feeds. But it also means our temptation of jumping into the fray and commenting and lashing out and not having control of our media is lessened. That’s human nature.
So back to blogs and websites. Despite the billions of social media users blogs are making a comeback. And I think for good reason. People want control over the content they create and consume.
I used to post articles from my blog on social and they would get a lot of interaction. This was before the algorithm gods changed their metrics. Now 1–5% of my followers even see the stuff I make. The algorithm gods determine the worth of the articles based on the previous interactions of my content, likes, comments, and even whether they have images or links.
I’m at the mercy of the social media gods.
This doesn’t mean blogs and websites aren’t read. They’re now read primarily through links on social media sites.
“The Stream now dominates the way people receive information on the web. Fewer users are directly checking dedicated webpages, instead getting fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex –and secretive — algorithms.
The Stream means you don’t need to open so many websites any more. You don’t need numerous tabs. You don’t even need a web browser. You open Twitter or Facebook on your smartphone and dive deep in. The mountain has come to you. Algorithms have picked everything for you. According to what you or your friends have read or seen before, they predict what you might like to see. It feels great not to waste time in finding interesting things on so many websites.”
Is The Stream good?
I don’t think so. It’s making us passive consumers who live at the mercy of our social media feeds. The gods of social are making guesses of who we are and what we like. Which can be so subjective especially when you consume something you wouldn’t normally interact with. Browse a book on Amazon you’d never read and watch how the same genre of books pop up in your search feeds.
They bombard us with content and images and video that form ideas in our minds. We make too quick of judgments, accusations, and assumptions because of the constant blasts of micro content.
The Stream will lessen our ability to think, reflect, and speak in winsome ways. The Stream will make our human relationships more shallow and our ideas about the world disconnected and fragmented.
Later Hossein says The Stream is just another form of TV:
“The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.
When I log on to Facebook, my personal television starts. All I need to do is to scroll: New profile pictures by friends, short bits of opinion on current affairs, links to new stories with short captions, advertising, and of course self-playing videos. I occasionally click on like or share button, read peoples’ comments or leave one, or open an article. But I remain inside Facebook, and it continues to broadcast what I might like. This is not the web I knew when I went to jail. This is not the future of the web. This future is television.” (source: https://medium.com/matter/the-web-we-have-to-save-2eb1fe15a426)
TV makes us passive and consumption focused. Reading, writing, and thinking is active and creator-centric.
I believe the blog and other websites will find a fresh voice in the coming years. Not that social media is going anywhere. Not that The Stream is going anywhere either. But people are seeing the addictive nature and waste of time social media is. We’ve been lied to that if you’re not constantly on social you’re missing out.
But the best things in life never happen on the internet, do they? I hope not.
People will find their own content and not be controlled by the algorithm gods any longer. Who wants to be controlled inside a media platform of what I have to consume, what I have to interact with, I want my freedoms back. It’s coming.
I’ve taken steps in my social media consumption. Last year, April 2017, I fasted from social media for 40 days. From that exercise, it showed me the unnecessary need for constant social media interaction. I still post on social, but spend little time interacting, and scrolling.
Has my life worsened?
Nope. Still have a great family, friends, church family, still know what’s going on in the world, and people still find my work.
I’m not an alarmist and I think social media sites have some value. But I think people are asking bigger questions for how we interact with media. What are the long term ramifications of our obsession with social media?
Maybe you’re like me, and you’re trying to scale back social media. Alan Jacobs gives an eight point response for your consideration:
1. I don’t have to say something just because everyone around me is.
2. I don’t have to speak about things I know little or nothing about.
3. I don’t have to speak about issues that will be totally forgotten in a few weeks or months by the people who at this moment are most strenuously demanding a response.
4. I don’t have to spend my time in environments that press me to speak without knowledge.
5. If I can bring to an issue heat, but no light, it is probably best that I remain silent.
6. Private communication can be more valuable than public.
7. Delayed communication, made when people have had time to think and to calm their emotions, is almost always more valuable than immediate reaction.
8. Some conversations are be more meaningful and effective in living rooms, or at dinner tables, than in the middle of Main Street.
I hope we can have more meaningful conversations around dinner tables, cafes, and living room into the future. Don’t let The Steam win.