The Lab Rat’s Revolt

December 29, 2019 at 3:46 pm (By Amba) ()

This article by Douglas Rushkoff is one of the best things I’ve read about the virtual unreality we’ve been lured into. Rushkoff more than anyone puts his finger on what’s driving me off Facebook.
I feel myself being experimented on, my mood and behavior manipulated, and not even by a sadistic sentient being. It’s AI with an electrode in my brain—a monstrous feedback loop between my own nervous system and an automated commercial imperative. If I click more when I’m sad (or mad), the algorithm will fiddle with my feed to fine-tune a mix that makes me sadder (or madder). It’s not even the sacrifice of privacy that bothers me (my “secrets” are boring!) so much as the theft of neurological autonomy.
“What happened to us in the 2010s wasn’t just that we were being surveilled, but that all that data was being used to customize everything we saw and did online. We were being shaped into who the data said we were. The net you see and the one I see are different. Your Google search results are different than mine, your news feeds are different and your picture of the world is different.”
“{We are] living in a new sort of environment. It’s an environment that remembers and records everything we have done online, every data point we leave in our wake, in order to adapt itself to our individual predilections – all in order to generate whatever responses or behaviors the platforms want from us. The digital media environment uses what it knows about each of our pasts to direct each one of our futures.”
“We can no longer come to agreement on what we’re seeing, because we’re looking at different pictures of the world. It’s not just that we have different perspectives on the same events and stories; we’re being shown fundamentally different realities, by algorithms looking to trigger our engagement by any means necessary.”
“We’ve spent the last 10 years as participants in a feedback loop between surveillance technology, predictive algorithms, behavioral manipulation and human activity. And it has spun out of anyone’s control.”
“We may be benefiting from the internet’s ability to help us find others with whom we share rare diseases, hobbies, or beliefs, but this sorting and grouping is abstract and over great distances. We are not connecting with people in the real world, but gathered by our eyeballs in disembodied virtual spaces, without the benefit of any of our painstakingly evolved social mechanisms for moderation, rapport, or empathy.
“The digital media environment is a space that is configuring itself in real time based on how the algorithms think we will react. They are sorting us into caricatured, machine-language oversimplifications of ourselves. This is why we saw so much extremism emerge over the past decade. We are increasingly encouraged to identify ourselves by our algorithmically determined ideological profiles alone, and to accept a platform’s arbitrary, profit-driven segmentation as a reflection of our deepest, tribal affiliations.”
Related articles: Our version of China’s social credit score;  excerpts from Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Also a dead-on video by Aaron and Melissa Dykes; this is patrons-only, and can be accessed, along with other prescient early warnings, by donating $1 a month.


  1. hkatz said,

    I’m slowly making my way through the Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff (had to return it to the library and now waiting for it to be available again); she writes about these issues as well. We’re definitely being molded, our information harvested and our behavior/thinking increasingly shaped. It’s freaking scary.

  2. amba12 said,

    I read an excerpt from that book that made me want to read it. Everyone needs to be aware of these behind-the-scenes manipulations and to use social media, if they choose to continue using it, with that awareness. How susceptible one is to manipulation depends on one’s vulnerability, and I am too vulnerable right now to use social media at all. If one is emotionally secure, it’s easier to resist and to use social media without being used by them.

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