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Is Social Media Training Us to Please a Machine?

“We tend to think that the internet is a communications network we use to speak to one another — but in a sense, we’re not doing anything of the sort. Instead, we are the ones being spoken through.”

Teens on TikTok all talk in the exact same tone, identical singsong smugness. Millennials on Twitter use the same shrinking vocabulary. My guy! Having a normal one! Even when you actually meet them in the sunlit world, they’ll say valid or based, or say y’all despite being British….

Everything you say online is subject to an instant system of rewards. Every platform comes with metrics; you can precisely quantify how well-received your thoughts are by how many likes or shares or retweets they receive. For almost everyone, the game is difficult to resist: they end up trying to say the things that the machine will like. For all the panic over online censorship, this stuff is far more destructive. You have no free speech — not because someone might ban your account, but because there’s a vast incentive structure in place that constantly channels your speech in certain directions. And unlike overt censorship, it’s not a policy that could ever be changed, but a pure function of the connectivity of the internet itself. This might be why so much writing that comes out of the internet is so unbearably dull, cycling between outrage and mockery, begging for clicks, speaking the machine back into its own bowels….

The internet is not a communications system. Instead of delivering messages between people, it simulates the experience of being among people, in a way that books or shopping lists or even the telephone do not. And there are things that a simulation will always fail to capture. In the philosophy of Emmanuel Lévinas, your ethical responsibility to other people emerges out of their face, the experience of looking directly into the face of another living subject. “The face is what prohibits us from killing….” But Facebook is a world without faces. Only images of faces; selfies, avatars: dead things. Or the moving image in a FaceTime chat: a haunted puppet. There is always something in the way. You are not talking to a person: the machine is talking, through you, to itself.

As more and more of your social life takes place online, you’re training yourself to believe that other people are not really people, and you have no duty towards them whatsoever. These effects don’t vanish once you look away from the screen…. many of the big conflicts within institutions in the last few years seem to be rooted in the expectation that the world should work like the internet. If you don’t like a person, you should be able to block them: simply push a button, and have them disappear forever.

The article revisits a 2011 meta-analysis that found massive declines in young people’s capacity for empathy, which the authors directly associated with the spread of social media. But then Kriss argues that “We are becoming less and less capable of actual intersubjective communication; more unhappy; more alone. Every year, surveys find that people have fewer and fewer friends; among millennials, 22% say they have none at all.

“For the first time in history, we can simply do without each other entirely. The machine supplies an approximation of everything you need for a bare biological existence: strangers come to deliver your food; AI chatbots deliver cognitive-behavioral therapy; social media simulates people to love and people to hate; and hidden inside the microcircuitry, the demons swarm…”

So while recent books look for historical antecedents, “I still think that the internet is a serious break from what we had before,” Kriss argues. “And as nice as Wikipedia is, as nice as it is to be able to walk around foreign cities on Google Maps or read early modern grimoires without a library card, I still think the internet is a poison.”

Is the Internet Changing the Way We Remember?

“A study in 2019 found that the spatial memory used for navigating through the world tends to be worse for people who’ve made extensive use of map apps and GPS devices…” reports NBC News.

But that’s just the beginning, according to Adrian Ward, who studies psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. NBC says Ward’s research suggests “People who lean on a search engine such as Google may get the right answers but they can also end up with a wrong idea of how strong their own memory is.”

In Ward’s research, published in October in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, he used a series of eight experiments to test how people used and thought about their own knowledge as they completed short quizzes of general knowledge. Some participants had access to Google while answering the questions — “What is the most widely spoken language in the world?” was one — while others did not. They also completed surveys. He found that people who used Google were more confident in their own ability to think and remember, and erroneously predicted that they would know significantly more in future quizzes without the help of the internet. Ward attributed that to Google’s design: simple and easy, less like a library and more like a “neural prosthetic” that simulates a search in a human brain.

“The speed makes it so you never understand what you don’t know,” Ward said.

The findings echo and build on earlier research, including a widely cited 2011 paper on the “Google effect”: a phenomenon in which people are less likely to remember information if they know they can find it later on the internet…. In a review of recent studies in the field, published in September, researchers at Duke University found that the “externalization” of memories into digital spheres “changes what people attend to and remember about their own experiences.” Digital media is new and different, they wrote, because of factors such as how easily images are edited or the huge number of memories at people’s fingertips.

Each photographic cue means another chance for a memory to be “updated,” maybe with a false impression, and each manipulation of a piece of social media content is a chance for distortion, wrote the researchers, doctoral student Emmaline Drew Eliseev and Elizabeth Marsh, a professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of a lab dedicated to studying memory.

How Information is Like Snacks, Money, and Drugs To Your Brain

A new study by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has found that information acts on the brain’s dopamine-producing reward system in the same way as money or food.

“To the brain, information is its own reward, above and beyond whether it’s useful,” says Assoc. Prof. Ming Hsu, a neuroeconomist. “And just as our brains like empty calories from junk food, they can overvalue information that makes us feel good but may not be useful — what some may call idle curiosity.” The paper, “Common neural code for reward and information value,” was published this month by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Authored by Hsu and graduate student Kenji Kobayashi, now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, it demonstrates that the brain converts information into the same common scale as it does for money. It also lays the groundwork for unraveling the neuroscience behind how we consume information — and perhaps even digital addiction.

Is the Reliance on GPS Shrinking Our Brains?

“Neuroscientists can now see that brain behavior changes when people rely on turn-by-turn directions,” says science writer M.R. O’Connor, citing a study of personal GPS devices co-authored by Kent-based cognitive neuroscience researcher Amir-Homayoun Javadi:

What isn’t known is the effect of GPS use on hippocampal function when employed daily over long periods of time. Javadi said the conclusions he draws from recent studies is that “when people use tools such as GPS, they tend to engage less with navigation. Therefore, brain area responsible for navigation is less used, and consequently their brain areas involved in navigation tend to shrink.”

How people navigate naturally changes with age. Navigation aptitude appears to peak around age 19, and after that, most people slowly stop using spatial memory strategies to find their way, relying on habit instead. But neuroscientist Veronique Bohbot has found that using spatial-memory strategies for navigation correlates with increased gray matter in the hippocampus at any age. She thinks that interventions focused on improving spatial memory by exercising the hippocampus — paying attention to the spatial relationships of places in our environment — might help offset age-related cognitive impairments or even neurodegenerative diseases. “If we are paying attention to our environment, we are stimulating our hippocampus, and a bigger hippocampus seems to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease,” Bohbot told me in an email.

The Seemingly Pervasive Sinister Side of Algorythmic Screen Time for Children

Writer and artist James Bridle writes in Medium:

“Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatize, and abuse children, automatically and at scale, and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level.

To begin: Kid’s YouTube is definitely and markedly weird. I’ve been aware of its weirdness for some time. Last year, there were a number of articles posted about the Surprise Egg craze. Surprise Eggs videos depict, often at excruciating length, the process of unwrapping Kinder and other egg toys. That’s it, but kids are captivated by them. There are thousands and thousands of these videos and thousands and thousands, if not millions, of children watching them. […] What I find somewhat disturbing about the proliferation of even (relatively) normal kids videos is the impossibility of determining the degree of automation which is at work here; how to parse out the gap between human and machine.”

Sapna Maheshwari also explores in The New York Times:

“Parents and children have flocked to Google-owned YouTube Kids since it was introduced in early 2015. The app’s more than 11 million weekly viewers are drawn in by its seemingly infinite supply of clips, including those from popular shows by Disney and Nickelodeon, and the knowledge that the app is supposed to contain only child-friendly content that has been automatically filtered from the main YouTube site. But the app contains dark corners, too, as videos that are disturbing for children slip past its filters, either by mistake or because bad actors have found ways to fool the YouTube Kids algorithms. In recent months, parents like Ms. Burns have complained that their children have been shown videos with well-known characters in violent or lewd situations and other clips with disturbing imagery, sometimes set to nursery rhymes.”

Very horrible and creepy.

Is the future of screen culture watching on fast-forward?

Make note of the screen culture symptoms: lack of linear narrative, increase in speed, shorter attention span, skimming, less engagement with content/meaning, “efficiency”, increase in scatterbrain, etc. Also, the descriptions about how this behaviour effects the perception of reality.

“I watch television and films in fast forward. This has become increasingly easy to do with computers (I’ll show you how) and the time savings are enormous. […] I started doing this years ago to make my life more efficient.

[…]

As I’ve come to consume all my television on my computer, I’ve developed other habits, too. I don’t watch linearly anymore; I often scrub back and forth to savor complex scenes or to skim over slow ones. In other words, I watch television like I read a book. I jump around. I re-read. Sometimes I speed up. Sometimes I slow down.

I confess these new viewing techniques have done something strange to my sense of reality. I can’t watch television in real-time anymore. Movie theaters feel suffocating. I need to be able to fast-forward and rewind and accelerate and slow down, to be able to parcel my attention where it’s needed.

[…]

We risk transforming, perhaps permanently, the ways in which our brains perceive people, time, space, emotion. And isn’t that marvelous?”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Parents are worried the Amazon Echo is conditioning their kids to be rude

“I’ve found my kids pushing the virtual assistant further than they would push a human,” says Avi Greengart, a tech analyst and father of five who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey. “[Alexa] never says ‘That was rude’ or ‘I’m tired of you asking me the same question over and over again.'” Perhaps she should, he thinks. “One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.”

Alexa, tell me a knock-knock joke.
Alexa, how do you spell forest?
Alexa, what’s 17 times 42?

The syntax is generally simple and straightforward, but it doesn’t exactly reward niceties like “please.” Adding to this, extraneous words can often trip up the speaker’s artificial intelligence. When it comes to chatting with Alexa, it pays to be direct—curt even. “If it’s not natural language, one of the first things you cut away is the little courtesies,” says Dennis Mortensen, who founded a calendar-scheduling startup called x.ai.

For parents trying to drill good manners into their children, listening to their kids boss Alexa around can be disconcerting.

“One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.”

It’s this combination that worries Hunter Walk, a tech investor in San Francisco. In a blog post, he described the Amazon Echo as “magical” while expressing fears it’s “turning our daughter into a raging asshole.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

How the Internet changed the way we read

“UC Literature Professor Jackson Bliss puts into words something many of you have probably experienced: the evolution of the internet and mobile devices has changed how we read. “The truth is that most of us read continuously in a perpetual stream of incestuous words, but instead of reading novels, book reviews, or newspapers like we used to in the ancien régime, we now read text messages, social media, and bite-sized entries about our protean cultural history on Wikipedia.”

Bliss continues, “In the great epistemic galaxy of words, we have become both reading junkies and also professional text skimmers. … Reading has become a relentless exercise in self-validation, which is why we get impatient when writers don’t come out and simply tell us what they’re arguing. … Content—whether thought-provoking, regurgitated, or analytically superficial, impeccably-researched, politically doctrinaire, or grammatically atrocious—now occupies the same cultural space, the same screen space, and the same mental space in the public imagination. After awhile, we just stop keeping track of what’s legitimately good because it takes too much energy to separate the crème from the foam.”

“How entitled children are making their parents’ lives hell”

“Sons are smashing windows, furious they’re asked to stop playing computer games. Doors are hanging off hinges having been slammed so hard in a fit of pique. Teenagers are holding knives to their mother’s throat, or threatening to kill themselves.

This is the pointy end of entitlement, the defining characteristic of this generation of children.

[…]

Mental health issues predicted

Kids who grow up insulated from difficulty and disappointment are also likely to struggle in adulthood if they don’t get into their first preference for uni, miss out on a job, or are dumped by the love of their life.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Google Glass user treated for internet addiction caused by the device

Thanks to Antonietta for the link.

“Scientists have treated a man they believe to be the first patient with internet addiction disorder brought on by overuse of Google Glass.

The man had been using the technology for around 18 hours a day – removing it only to sleep and wash – and complained of feeling irritable and argumentative without the device. In the two months since he bought the device, he had also begun experiencing his dreams as if viewed through the device’s small grey window.

The existence of internet addiction disorder linked to conventional devices such as phones and PCs is hotly debated among psychiatrists. It was not included as a clinical diagnosis in the 2013 update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the official reference guide to the field, and many researchers maintain that its effects are merely symptoms of other psychological problems.

But Dr Andrew Doan, head of addictions and resilience research at the US navy’s Substance Abuse and Recovery Programme (Sarp) and co-author of the paper on the patient, published in the journal Addictive Behaviours, says people are clearly suffering from problems related to internet addiction, and it is only a matter of time before the research and treatments catch up.

“People used to believe alcoholism wasn’t a problem – they blamed the person or the people around them,” Doan said. “It’s just going to take a while for us to realise that this is real.”

The patient – a 31-year-old US navy serviceman – had checked into the Sarp in September 2013 for alcoholism treatment. The facility requires patients to steer clear of addictive behaviours for 35 days – no alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes – but it also takes away all electronic devices.

Doctors noticed the patient repeatedly tapped his right temple with his index finger. He said the movement was an involuntary mimic of the motion regularly used to switch on the heads-up display on his Google Glass.

He said he was “going through withdrawal from his Google Glass”, Doan explained, adding: “He said the Google Glass withdrawal was greater than the alcohol withdrawal he was experiencing.”

He said the patient used Google Glass to improve his performance at work, where he was able to quicken his job of making inventories of convoy vehicles for the navy.

By the time the patient checked into the facility, he was suffering from involuntary movements, cravings, memory problems and dreaming as if he was wearing the glasses. When he was not wearing them he felt irritable and argumentative …”