, 35 tweets, 7 min read Read on Twitter
While I was on hiatus, I scheduled quite a few posts sharing episodes of YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION, a podcast about the current divisive splitting, algorithms/machine learning/&c, and how they're ripping the social fabric apart.

I noticed those tweets had few clicks, so. Ahem.
The reason I'm pushing that podcast — and pushing it hard — is that many people are like, "Cool, this is a problem for the other side, I'm totally immune to it because my [system of belief] is magical." And you're not. I'm not. Nobody is.
I've been reading about this since the 2016 election, definitely; and I'm not anti-tech. I'm a fucking librarian and spend about 0.2% of my time touching physical books for work; half of that is when I'm showing science students what a bound journal used to look like.
There are a lot of machine learning & AI startups that are marketing to libraries right now. I'm suspicious of their effects — if implemented, will people write to reward the AI discovery layer so they can get cited more, or will they write what is important regardless? 🙃
Library science *is* an information science, so what happens in consumer information/data is very related to my field, even when the connections are not obvious; admittedly, I post mostly about other topics like polytheism, the philosophy books I'm reading, my writing, &c. here.
(But even those are very related.)

From a consumer POV, as people using "free" tools (ha, we're selling our attention to use Twitter, actually — they run ads), we can advocate for better regulation. The first step is to be informed of the alarming normalcy of our susceptibility.
The ep I heard Wed at the gym was with a former YouTube developer. He kept talking about how the emphasis on maximizing "time on device" (similar to what happens in gambling, FYI) made his managers ignore that the algorithms were funneling everyone towards more extreme content.
This happens on every platform; once you know it, you can sort of cognitively resist — but as the person being interviewed points out, you are up against the power of a computer that can outsmart top-class chess players. None of us can win. This is the ep. …ur-undivided-attention.simplecast.com/episodes/down-…
It has full #transcripts, btw. That is great because I'm about to pull some quotations that I think are important. Like, yes, again — I'm going on an info science kick right now; maybe you don't follow me for that? But you need to know we are in a cave. humanetech.com/wp-content/upl…
(p. 3) "That we’re sort of A/B Testing our way with the smartest supercomputers pointed at our minds to find sort of the soft underbellies to just be like, what's effective? And so our A/B testing our way towards anti morality or immorality or amorality."
G: So we blame ourselves […]
T: You should have yourself control.
G: Yeah. […] You are bad person, but you have a supercomputer playing against your brain […]. And it will find your weaknesses. It's already studied the weaknesses of billions of people, it will find them.
(p.4)
And just the entire part of the conversation about how YouTube recommends increasingly extreme content because it profiles conspiracy theorists and people with extreme views as "ideal viewers" b/c they tend to use the platform more (maxing time on device) is so stomach-churning.
Ultimately, none of these eps is saying Twitter/YouTube/Facebook/&c. are bad. These platforms do a lot of good things. The question is more about what we should be doing to impose regulation & ethical norms to ensure that the algorithms lead us towards the good, not to division.
If I wanted to relate it to things people tend to follow me for, it's kinda like what I'm reading about in Iamblichus, Proclus, Hermias, &c. about division/generation into Matter and its converse, reverting back to the One via a process of purification, cultivating virtue, &c.
There are a lot of things in this world that can either further division or its converse; we owe it to ourselves to establish the ethical & moral guardrails in our tech to make sure they lead to better places, not worse. Similar concepts in both contexts.
To build on this thread.

We all have vulnerabilities within ourselves. They are the things that people told us and did to us when we were younger, the negative self-talk we give ourselves under stress, and even the cultural bruises we acquire when we feel out-of-place & unheard.
What divisiveness does, and what division cultivates, is a slow peeling open of these places to make them hurt more. And then, in the process of those algorithms that move one towards an extreme POV, the thing that is harmful feels like a panacea, but it is not one.
This can happen directly, as when someone goes into a specific web culture and relies on recommendations, but it also happens indirectly. A cultural zeitgeist experienced in person can indeed be just a bunch of people being pulled apart by this divisiveness all in the same way.
This is quite complicated & disturbing. People love community, and they thrive in it; but the type of community-building that comes about in a positive environment has a wholly different character. It does NOT rely on opening those wounds; it heals directly and makes one better.
Since I was a child, I've seen the power of division — it is very expedient. Instead of having to find something in common among people who are radically different, one just creates a common enemy and goes after lim/them. These algorithms are incredibly surgical in how they work.
Working against it — especially in an environment the way modern Internet tools operate by default — is an enormous struggle. The parallel processes of division and (reunion?) that I mentioned upthread in the Platonists is a smooth analogy here in part because they're both hard.
In a digital sense, working against division means going out of one's way to see myriad "rivers" of division & opinion and how they connect. It means contextualizing against a larger picture that is noisy + that requires holding multiple conflicting things in one's head at once.
It's rather like the Forms in Late Platonism (i.e., Proclus), where Forms that are in division against each other in matter are not so much like that when they're traced up a level or several, and opposites can be held ensemble. It's a lot closer to truth, yet harder to grasp.
But also, looking to Hermias' translation of Syrianus — specifically 79,1-ish — the specific way in which algorithms drive people is related to the irrational soul, "the purifications of which are for their part effected through moral philosophy or the assistance of the gods."
I remember during my worst day of using Facebook before I quit it that it was a lot like a howl in my head and a pit in my gut that would never relax. I was so on edge from social media back then that it impacted my sleep and the anxiety just wouldn't let me focus.
It also does a double-whammy b/c the ways that people internalize the false beliefs put in their heads by this hyperdivision are impurities of the rational soul — the division creeps in through the emotions and latches onto the mind. Here's Hermias a few lines later —
"And there is also pollution of the rational soul, [which occurs] when [the soul] internally reaches false conclusions on the basis of false beliefs & [then] comes out with a lot of nonsense and false thinking. Refutation is the purification for these [latter], & philosophy, […]
"[…] and above all the assistance of the gods, which perfects the soul and leads it to the truth, can drive them off."

And then the text goes on with information about the levels of clued-in people are about the pollution they have.
Contextually, the passage is analyzing what's really going on when Socrates realizes he's just shit-talked Eros and needs to account for it. But the commentary goes into a general discussion of purification in a variety of contexts. Very interesting read.
In the context of how the algorithms radicalize online and then coax people into digital, analog, and digital-analog hybrid communities that all funnel that toxicity, a big part of why this is such a problem is that people made these algorithms to maximize Time on Device.
They wanted money. And so there is a core of greed at the heart of all of this, like a vast mud pit (Hermias mentions mud lol so I'm gonna roll with it) that people are wading through in their souls and minds without even realizing that they're getting dirty.
Then they track it into their homes and hug people with it clinging to them and the mud literally gets everywhere. The solution is to not have a mud pit, which is why regulation is important WRT the hyperdivisive social tech tools. But we have to mind ourselves while we advocate.
Also I'm getting tired. "Hermias' translation of Syrianus" means "the translation of Hermias taking notes on Syrianus" welcome to my brain.
The bottom line of this thread — which I thought I'd ended before, but I guess not after reading yet another article this evening —

is to
watch your mind
and your emotions
and be vigilant
about knowing yourself & your values.

It's not good enough, but it is all you can do.
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