You think social media is a tool and therefore, neutral?
(UPDATED) Digital content, social media is not like Switzerland. It is not neutral. Yes, it offers unlimited data on a universe of topics but it only has one direction: to persuade. It does this for every imaginable topic you can think of. The architecture of social media is designed for you to give what is most precious and limited: your time.
You are holier than me if you have always kept your wise distance from digital media. I have binged on some episodes on Netflix and got hooked for hours on weekends on YouTube or Ted Talks. But I noticed a difference when I only watch one film at a time or listen to one Ted Talk at a time and allow myself to marinate some more on what had just happened to me after I watched or listened to them.
When I binge, I feel like I have a mosaic of things in my head and the pieces take forever to form. When I just watch one thing at a time, I feel like I am on a ride that I am steering, even if it brings me from one idea to the next. It is also the journey that takes me to the sense of feeling a "critical mass" and momentum to lay my hands on my keyboard to start writing a piece.
Daniel Levitin's The Organized Mind is a book about how your 80 billion neurons in flux could live in this current world now where there are 21,274 television stations producing 85 thousand hours of new programming every day, and YouTube uploading 6,000 hours of video every hour. This does not even include your 5,000 friends on Facebook or in other social media accounts whom you are in some sort of communication with.
Levitin said that the digital data that each of us generates amounts to half a million books worth of data just stored in our personal files alone. I was not sure how this was counted, but he also said that in our leisure conversations alone (not during work probably because "talking to our screens" does not count), we process 100,000 words each day.
A world where there are multiple data showers of things asking to be viewed, heard, read, praised, and bashed is not a world that is neutral. Why? Because your brain is not a cement pile. It has evolved to react and respond. And the architecture of the internet capitalizes on that very primitive human impulse.
The brain's natural tendency is to judge all the time. It is its job. So when people preempt you by saying "do not judge me," they are asking the impossible from you. However, to be aware of your own judgment, including your biases, is a value we have all come to behold because it makes us feel like we are improving as a collective species.
So if impulse is a no-brainer, discipline then means more work for your brain cells. So anyone who says, "Oh, he is just true to himself because he says what is on his mind" is not giving you a compliment or praise. It is an affirmation that your "impulse center" which we share with other animals, is working.
That is the minimum product of evolution. As human beings, we have grown connections between our impulse center (amygdala) and our "thinking more carefully" parts (pre-frontal cortex), so if we only act on impulse, it means you are not taking that "high" way. If you are always taking the impulse "low roads," what is the "sapien" after "Homo" for?
Levitin says that the limit of the human brain to process information is 120 bits per second. That operationally means just experiencing one person at a time. He says if we can take in two people, it would have to be a well-managed 3-way conversation. So given this limitation, imagine what is happening to your brain when it encounters an explosion of data and even if you home in on a topic, it lures you from one door to the next.
Levitin says our brains are not very good at switching. It may feel good since every time you click and see something new, you feel rewarded, but because we are wired only to process one thing at a time, we make errors in judgments. Among the errors we make, we build stereotypes to shortcut things, we rely on them. We do not, in short, get any wiser despite the inordinate amount of data we get. Again, we fall short of deserving the "sapien" we attached to "Homo."
"Attentional filter" is a "bug" in the human brain which makes us focus only on the headline grabbing content. The brain likes that but it does not make for a better mind. This is the idea behind "Breaking News" titles – to keep us hooked even if many times, I ask myself what is so shattering about some of it.
This is also echoed by Alain de Botton's Ted Talk on success, wherein he approached tabloid writers and asked them about how they would capture certain plots in headlines. For the plotline of Madame Bovary, the tabloid writers came up with "Shopaholic Adulteress Swallows Arsenic After Credit Fraud!"
We now live in a world where headlines follow us like constant rain. And as De Botton said, the ones who succeed in the lives they want for themselves are the ones who can tell what is important and what is not, and act accordingly. Successful people have great sieves – they know what is important for their own lives, not what is important to the celebrities who punctuate social media.
But you may, like many, argue but isn't that the case when the written word came about and books threatened "oral" knowledge? No, because when we invented writing, we had no knowledge of persuasive technology. We did not have labs that taught programmers how to home in on the human brain where impulse is king!
This is what early social media architect Tristan Harris mentioned in his Ted Talk. Our brains, including those of kids' that are yet to form connections, are being lured in the billions to take the impulse low road. And repeated choice becomes habit. That is the kind of mind our brains are lured into.
Our brains can only act on available information it can make sense of. And because we can only do shortcuts of all the information we are sucked into, that is generally the direction and shape human lives are shaping. I can already see the headlines: "Humans in the billions fall victim to their own success!" – Rappler.com