In a recent post, I mentioned Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Media Accounts Right Now. His focus is on the ways that social media like Facebook and Twitter use algorithms that monitor our online behavior in order to generate self-reinforcing, socially isolating content and create “engagement” (i.e. addiction). His critique is enlightening and powerful.
In some ways I think he’s too lenient toward the internet as a whole and its effects. The online world has given us countless ways for like-minded people around the world to find and support one another. Who can fault sites like Reddit and countless others when they allow communication between sufferers of rare diseases, or lovers of Belgian horses, or those grieving miscarriages?
But the same technologies greatly amplify some of the vilest trends in the world today: all manner of racists, Jew-haters or Caliphate-dreamers can find one another, connect, and encourage or even organize monstrous crimes. This isn’t all promoted by manipulative algorithms; it happens through the hyper-connectivity that’s basic to the internet itself.