Thursday, March 31, 2016

Another thing all wise men fear...

One more thing all wise men fear.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a book that, at the time, was not very well known titled, “The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss.  Today, that book is a national bestseller and absolutely amazing, I highly recommend it.  In the book there is a poignant quote that has stuck with me, “There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.” In the book each of these things has their own meaning, only relevant to the world the book is set in. This quote, however, has stuck with me and I often find myself creating my own list of things that wise men fear.

There are patterns that occur in nature that at some level mathematicians, scientists, and biologists can explain. For example, the rings on a leaf, spirals on a tree, waves in the ocean, and so on, can all be explained to some degree. Like the patterns in nature, I believe that most of social interaction occurs in patterns. I took an attempt at one of these patterns below:
Obviously every social interaction has a different flow, but for the most part social interaction is a process that builds on itself.  Nature has patterns and these patterns can be backed up scientifically. What we cannot back up scientifically but I know is present is what I would consider a phenomenon in the social interaction. Essentially, there are aspects of social interaction that cannot be explained by a pattern but rather are entirely spontaneous.  Two lifelong friends who met after bumping heads while reaching down to pick up a pen or a married couple who would never have considered one another a viable option without the random connections of mutual friends.

Here is that same “chart” with the spontaneous influences that happen in social interaction:

I would argue that social interaction is rarely calculated and although there are patterns, most of it is left up to “chance,” or a better way of describing it would be the spontaneous pushes that drive the building of relationships.

Now that we can understand how social interaction works, we must look at one of our generation’s most used channels of social interaction: social media. If you aren’t a user of social media, here is a quick snippet of what I feel like it’s like to be a “user”

My thumb hovers merely millimeters from the screen in trepidation fully knowing what is about to come. I click on the Twitter app and I’m blasted off into commotion. Tweet after tweet opens up rabbit holes that take me far from my original feed. When I’m on Twitter, I have no doubt that Nicholas Carr’s “Juggler’s Brain” is true, Twitter seizes my attention and scatters it in a million places.  The same happens when I click on Facebook as well, minutes turn to hours and suddenly I’m far from productive and clicking through a friend of a friend’s pictures from 2009. 

Facebook and twitter use algorithms, this has been much discussed in our class. Algorithms are a self-contained set of step-by-step, set of operations to be performed used by most websites to tailor their content to the viewer. The reason I decided to combat algorithms can be found in the comparison of Facebook and Twitter, these two social media platforms in comparison to another wildly popular app: Instagram.

Instagram is an online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures and videos, and share them publicly or privately on the app. Instagram was, at it’s conception, primarily invented for art and the social media aspect was added later. When we look at the content of Twitter and Facebook and compare it to the content of Instagram, there truly is a difference.  Photographers, videographers, and artists all go to Instagram to share their content, where it’s free of algorithms. Every post on every Instagram feed is served up to the viewer chronologically. Well that is, until yesterday. In my opinion, Instagram was the last pure social media platform and as of this week, Instagram is changing their software to using a algorithm instead of leaving images in their chronological order on the feed. 

And that brings me to my main point: algorithms take away from the natural flow of social interactions. And, all social media that uses algorithms to drive their user interaction should not be considered social. Because Instagram is changing, gone, is the day where I my post has the same chance of being seen as the photographer who spent thousands on their equipment.  Gone, is the day where the spontaneous pushes that drive social interaction can be present on the newsfeed.

I understand that this video’s argument is to stay clear of social media in entirety but there is a moment that really drives my point "Look Up" The moment that moves me with every viewing, is when the man triggers a lifelong adventure just by asking that woman for directions.  This to me, is one of those spontaneous pushes.

All that being said, I would add one more thing to the list of things that all wise men fear. A wise man also fears algorithms. This blog post is merely a caution against the excessive use of algorithms on the web. There obviously can be good that comes from them but it’s important to consider what could be.  How long before algorithms effect what once was private messaging on the web? How long before every aspect of the web is algorithimized? I thoroughly believe that algorithms take away from the natural flow of social interactions and can limit the relationship building potential of social media. When algorithms are in place I believe, by definition, you can no longer call social media social.

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