Friday, September 08, 2017

Feed and History, some remarks

Original article here.

Many might regard internet, like TV, as a tool to be used judiciously.  It is theoretically possible to watch only documentaries on television, and to use internet to grow intellectually.

But that does not usually happen.  It is far more likely that television and internet are used for stimulation, entertainment and passing time.

As Marshall McLuhan famously said: The medium is the message.  What he meant was that the design of a platform dictates the kinds of interaction and information sharing that happens on it.  Television and internet have been taken over by the advertising and entertainment industry.  The design of these platforms is to serve ads effectively.  This fact will dictate how these platforms are evolved and used.

On cable, you can subscribe to premium channels which do not have advertising, but those premium channels are rarely in the business of edification.  Premium channels offer exclusive content, but that content's purpose is also to entertain.  And of course, product placements and subliminal lifestyle messages are all over such content.  It is a mistake to think that one can watch "Mad Men" or "Sex in the City" and not get influenced or enamored of hedonism and consumerism.

Internet is a relatively new medium, and though one can of course use it for information and fact-checking, that is an aside.  Companies like Google and Facebook and Twitter are ostensibly in the business of "sharing" and "communicating" but that is disingenuous.  They make their money from advertising, and any sharing or communication is used by their ad networks to serve relevant ads to you.  Their intent is to have you keep coming back and refreshing your feed and webpage.  Facebook has gloriously implemented the idea that they need not create any content, if they can have you and your friends occupied and distracted with each other's tidbits, that suits them just fine.

While on television, at least some investment has to be made to produce content, there is no such investment to be made on the internet.  On the internet, these companies are providing a platform.  They do invest in creating and sustaining the platform, but the platform cost is negligible compared to what they earn from you.  And once the platform is there, their primary intent is to serve you more ads.  Any service of theirs which eventually cannot be used to serve you more ads will be discontinued.

There are indeed outstanding non-profit platforms such as Wikipedia, but those are used on occasion for a few minutes, while FB, Twitter and suchlike are used everyday for hours.  There is no excitement in using Wikipedia, but there is plenty of potential entertainment, drama and gratification on the "feed" platforms.

If you offer a drug addict two choices: a healthy salad and an hour in the gym, versus an everyday-refilled dose of his favorite drug, what do you think will happen?

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