You are what you consume: Facebook v. Twitter

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You are what you read, watch, and listen to. The content you consume changes how you think about the world, and determines what topics you’re aware of and concerned about. Over the past century, countless thinkers have explored this idea, and from a variety of perspectives.

McLuhan focused on the media type (i.e. books vs. television), and asserted that the medium through which content is delivered changes how the content is encoded by the creator, and decoded by the recipient. More recently, Nicholas Carr argued that ways digital media affects our ability to focus and follow complicated arguments. Eli Pariser coined the term filter bubble to describe the way social media is designed to show us content we already agree with—clustering us into like-minded groups infrequently exposed to ideas that challenge our existing attitudes and beliefs.

But what if social media, the same technology that helped create today’s highly polarized political environment, could be used to reverse the trend? What if you could assemble a custom feed of diverse thinkers representing an eclectic range of voices from across the political spectrum, or whichever thing you’re into. And since your thoughts are influenced by the content you consume, this could help your thinking be more inclusive of a range of views. It’s a personalized news feed more directly curated by you, rather than Facebook’s engagement algorithms.

That’s how I use Twitter. I follow an eclectic mix of artists, journalists, comedians, entrepreneurs and startup influencers, and political thinkers from both sides. When I open my Twitter homepage, I’m exposed to views I agree with and those I do not. It’s a way to take me out of my bubble every once and awhile, and remind me that “the other side” often has good points to make and  deeply held beliefs to defend.

I suppose I could use Facebook to achieve a similar result. But in my experience, this isn’t how that service is used. Facebook is more for private, personal news and achievements; people seem to be acutely self-conscious when posting there. Twitter is more free-form, public, and informal. Twitter starts with the assumption that you’ll follow people you might not know (i.e. famous people); Facebook is based on precisely the opposite premise.

And really, you could achieve this type of thought diversity by reading different books, picking up magazines from “the other side” every once and awhile, etc. But the cost of engagement is lower on Twitter; all you have to do is click the “follow” button.

Nicholas Carr, observer of the tech absurd

Nicholas Carr, putting the “Internet of Things” into his razor-sharp perspective, as always.

Take the so-called Internet of Things. When we imbue an inanimate object, a thing, with smartness, we’re not conjuring up that smartness out of nothing. We’re simply transferring a bit of smartness that already exists, in our own minds, into the thing. IBM tells us that we’re building a Smarter Planet, but what IBM doesn’t say, at least not in its marketing materials, is that as the planet gets smarter its occupants get dumber.

Friday Link List: Which Carr Is It? Edition

Two of my all-time favorite media writer types share a last name—”Carr”.

I often conflate the two.

This time, at least, my conflation is purposeful: I’d like to share two recent articles, one by Nicholas Carr and one about David Carr.

With me now?

First, the piece about David Carr. It’s called All the Views He’s Fit to Print {the globe and mail}. Really feel like I got to know the guy through this. Lots of gems like this:

At Casa Nonna, he is unfailingly polite. Not just to me – when the appetizers arrive, he serves us both, and when we tuck into our pasta course, he shovels a couple of his gnocchi onto my plate, unprompted – but also to the waiting staff. He repeatedly stops mid-sentence to say, “That’s lovely, thanks so much,” or “everything is lovely, thank you.” And it’s more than common courtesy.

“I waited tables for seven years, so I really care about stuff like that. It’s [expletive] hard. I had a waiter dream last night. It was like: ‘Table Four’s been here a half an hour and they don’t have any [expletive] water, what is going on?’ Still. From the old days. That’s stress, man,” he says, “that’s real stress.”

Now for the piece by Nicholas Carr, picks up on the thread of his recent book that I’m currently reading, The Glass Cage. It’s about Facebook and the potential ramifications of a social landscape mediated by algorithms:

If and when Facebook perfects its behavior modification algorithms, it would be a fairly trivial exercise to expand their application beyond the realm of shitfaced snapshots. That photo you’re about to post of the protest rally you just marched in? That angry comment about the president? That wild thought that just popped into your mind? You know, maybe those wouldn’t go down so well with the boss.

Read Facebook’s Automated Conscience {rough type, Nicholas Carr’s blog}.

Friday Link List

1. Two Pittsburghians send mail to everyone on Earth

Or at least that’s the goal:

Michael Crowe and I are in the middle of writing a unique hand-written (or hand-typed) letter to every household in the world. […]

Each letter is different, and where possible personally addressed. We sign them “love Michael & Lenka”, and write in a chatty, friendly tone about topics of possible mutual interest; the weather, gentleness, Roseanne, etc.

In an attempt to discover these shared interests we often travel to the town, suburb, or small village that we plan to write to and live amongst the future recipients of our letters while we write them. We walk the same streets, eat the same bread brought from the same shops, observe the views from their hills, count the daffodils in their gardens, and so on.

Via {very short list}.

2. What Should We Be Worried About? {mother jones}

A new collection of essays entitled just that asks some of today’s biggest thinkers to divulge their fears and worries.

One of my favorites, Nicholas Carr, rants about the patience deficit (of course):

Given what we know about the variability of our time sense, it seems clear that information and communication technologies would have a particularly strong effect on personal time perception. After all, they often determine the pace of the events we experience, the speed with which we’re presented with new information and stimuli, and even the rhythm of our social interactions.

That’s long been true, but the influence must be particularly strong now that we carry powerful and extraordinarily fast computers around with us. Our gadgets train us to expect near instantaneous responses to our actions, and we quickly get frustrated and annoyed at even brief delays. I know that my own perception of time has been changed by technology. If I go from using a fast computer or Web connection to using even a slightly slower one, processes that take just a second or two longer—waking the machine from sleep, launching an application, opening a Web page—seem almost intolerably slow. Never before have I been so aware of, and annoyed by, the passage of mere seconds.

3. Amazon, a Friendly Giant as Long as It’s Fed {new york times}

Vincent Zandri hails from the future. He is a novelist from the day after tomorrow, when Amazon has remade the worlds of writing, printing, selling and reading books so thoroughly that there is hardly anything left besides Amazon. […]

A few years ago he was reduced to returning bottles and cans for grocery money. Now his Amazon earnings pay for lengthy stays in Italy and Paris, as well as expeditions to the real Amazon. “I go wherever I want, do whatever I want and live however I want,” he said recently at a bar in Mill Valley, Calif., a San Francisco suburb where he was relaxing after a jaunt to Nepal.

Theses in Tweetform

I love these {nicholas carr’s blog}:

28. People in love leave the sparsest data trails.

11. Personal correspondence grows less interesting as the speed of its delivery quickens.

25. Personalized ads provide a running critique of artificial intelligence.

19. Instagram shows us what a world without art looks like.

39. When we turn on a GPS system, we become cargo.