Best Of The Web
“Twitter, as everyone knows, is Hell. Its most hellish aspect is a twofold, self-reinforcing contradiction: you know that you could leave at any time and you know that you will not. (Its pleasures, in this sense, are largely masochistic.) My relationship with the Web site, which has, for years now, been the platform most deeply embedded in my daily—hourly, minutely—routine, has come to feel increasingly perverse. It mostly seems to offer a relentless confirmation that everything is both as awful as possible and somehow getting worse. And everyone else on Twitter appears to feel the same way. (You can check this claim right now by doing a Twitter search for phrases including “extremely normal website” and “I’m losing my mind.”) Last month, the writer Julius Sharpe posted the following exquisitely relatable sentiment: “Whenever someone stops tweeting, I feel like Ben Affleck going to Matt Damon’s house at the end of ‘Good Will Hunting.’ So happy for them.”
So why hasn’t Sharpe done a runner, like Matt Damon lighting out for the territory? And why, more to the point, haven’t I? The obvious answer is that social media is an addiction. The first argument in Jaron Lanier’s recent book, “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” is that the nexus of consumer technologies and submerged algorithms, which forms so large a part of contemporary reality, is deliberately engineered to get us hooked. “We’re being hypnotized little by little by technicians we can’t see, for purposes we don’t know,” he writes. “We’re all lab animals now.”
The problem, for Lanier, is not technology, per se. The problem is the business model based on the manipulation of individual behavior. Social-media platforms know what you’re seeing, and they know how you acted in the immediate aftermath of seeing it, and they can decide what you will see next in order to further determine how you act—a feedback loop that gets progressively tighter until it becomes a binding force on an individual’s free will. One of the more insidious aspects of this model is the extent to which we, as social-media users, replicate its logic at the level of our own activity: we perform market analysis of our own utterances, calculating the reaction a particular post will generate and adjusting our output accordingly. Negative emotions like outrage and contempt and anxiety tend to drive significantly more engagement than positive ones. This toxic miasma of bad vibes—of masochistic pleasures—is not, in Lanier’s view, an epiphenomenon of social media, but rather the fuel on which it has been engineered to run.
Lanier has coined a term for this process: he calls it bummer, which stands for “Behaviours of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent.” (Sample bummer-based sentence: “Your identity is packified by bummer.” Sample marginalia, scrawled by this reviewer with sufficient desperate emphasis to literally tear the page: “Please stop saying bummer!”) In Lanier’s view, bummer is responsible, in whole or in part, for a disproportionate number of our contemporary ailments, from the election of Donald Trump to the late-career resurgence of measles due to online anti-vaccine paranoia.”
JJ Best Of The Web
"Donald Trump is the only President of the United States since the collapse of the Soviet Union who has been unable to “reset” the U.S. relationship with Russia."
"This past weekend Melania Trump’s spokeswoman penned an op-ed for CNN in which she criticized the media’s unrelenting criticism of the first lady... Is it true that the media have a fixation on the first lady’s fashion sense?"
"Ultra-Orthodox Jews are smarter consumers, have interest-free loan funds, and are satisfied even if they are poor, the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs has found."
"In Anti-Fandom: Dislike and Hate in the Digital Age, out January 8, Melissa Click delivers a collection of 15 essays by scholars exploring the many ways there are to hate, and why we love to do it."
"For more than a decade, ultrarich people from the former Soviet Union, China and the Middle East have turned to London mansions, New York high-rises, and chic properties in Vancouver, Miami and Paris to store their cash."
"Virtual worlds give back what has been scooped out of modern life . . . it gives us back community, a feeling of competence, and a sense of being an important person whom people depend on."
"It’s the end of 2019 and America’s bountiful harvest is in. But President Donald Trump is facing a crisis few contemplated the year before: a food shortage almost everywhere else in the world."
"Christopher Hitchens died seven years ago this Saturday, a decade after breaking ranks with onetime friend Gore Vidal and beginning a feud that symbolized major changes in left-wing politics."
"I could try to find out where my ancestors may have come from, but that is never going to show me what I’ve actually inherited."
"Have you eaten a Cheez-It sometime in the past eight years? If so, as they say on TV, call now because you may be entitled to compensation."
"An intelligent fish has stirred up a debate about how to measure self-awareness among animals—and what self-awareness even is in the first place."
"...either our youth walk out on Judaism or maintain a lukewarm relationship with Jewish observance; or, they become so obsessed by its finest points that they are incapable of seeing the forest from the trees."