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Informational Diabetes πŸ”—

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Jon Stokes has a nice article out about the modern content feed's consequences on building worldviews. Many wonder why people seem to readily adopt incredibly unhinged worldviews at the drop of a hat now, and the post was an attempt to explore that.

I have a few thoughts of my own about the subject. Most of the mitigations to this effect have to come down to forcing a context switch. When you are in a Skinner Box (which is what these are) the way to break out is to context switch.

This problem is far from new. It has simply become industrialized and mass-produced. Even during the age of radio, we had plenty of people listening to what is essentially a swamp of propaganda from multiple sources in search of tiny nuggets of truth. The interactions of these various manifolds of BS have emergent effects, one of which is the production of cranks.

The obvious solution here would be to not emit all this nonsense in the first place. Aside from the fact that this is a very expensive and error-prone (not to mention easy to abuse) endeavor, no sane power will ever stop emitting propaganda while it's competitors still can and do. It's the same reason that nuclear disarmament will forever be a pipe dream. Our emotional need for security will never allow us this.

Furthermore (unlike nuclear weapons), operant conditioning can be used without harming innocents and with highly positive effects. Therefore it should not have its usage restricted at all. At least 80% of the words on the web are this sort of Content Marketing delivered by a feed.

The most obvious solution to much of this is to simply not expose yourself to it. To a large extent, this is in fact the answer. Past a certain point, do you really need to be more informed about world events? These days I rarely read the news, and find out many things simply through word of mouth (or in chat rooms). Getting my news from my friends is great, as I know they're "full of it" at least 90% of the time.

That said, nobody's immune to the occasional recreational doomscroll through a feed. Here, limiting engagement to a time window via alarm is quite handy, as feeds are designed to keep feeding you forever. This is essentially introducing latency and loss artificially to force a context switch. Much of the reason this was not a problem with the web in earlier days was because of bandwidth limitations; you had to get up and grab a coffee for a JPEG to load, man!

Another good way to force context switching has to do with the organization of the information. Rather than a perpetually scrolling feed, a paginated output forces a periodic re-evaluation as to whether "I've had enough". Similarly, sorting content via source and thread reduces the likelyhood you build one of these strange emergent narratives, as it's not mixing contexts as much. It should shock nobody that the tools of the earlier web (email and RSS) embraced all these, as we all had better things to do and less bandwidth to do it with.

The best metaphor to sum up this problem would be "Informational Diabetes". Now that we can drink from a firehose of kool-aid this outcome should shock nobody. Given there is no informational equivalent of insulin (save perhaps for getting hammered to the point one is illiterate), moderation seems the best bet for overcoming this condition.

This is of course cold comfort, as it means we get to live forever in this world of bloated and disgusting minds. It's no longer eternal september. We now live in a perpetual Wal-Mart with Jerry Springer and WWE on every TV.

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