Monday, 20 July 2015

Is the internet the new TV?

The question in the title, and its answer, may seem obvious to some. Well, of course! Surely we've known that for some time now. But has it ever occurred to you that the internet is becoming more and more like TV in its nature, too?

Sometimes it takes being away from something to notice changes that are, to the rest of us, imperceptible. Which is precisely what happened to blogger Hossein Derakhshan, author of this thought-provoking and very readable article: The Web We Have To Save. Derakhshan was imprisoned, in Iran, for his blogging among other things, between 2008 and 2014. The year before he went to jail, I joined Facebook, which was still at the early adopter phase and a very different place to what it is now. I was rather late to blogging, starting with that in 2008.

Derakhshan points out a number of developments that have taken place on the internet during his incarceration, but that with the greatest impact is the growth of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. As he says, "lots of people start their daily online routine in these cul de sacs of social media, and their journeys end there." What characterises social media is what Derakhshan calls The Stream - "...getting fed a never-ending flow of information that's picked for them by complex - and secretve - algorithms." These days, you don't even need to go via a browser - just press the Facebook app button on your smartphone and you mustn't even leave the confines of your cosy social media world. He adds: "... and not only do the algorithms behind the Stream equate newness and popularity with importance, they also tend to show us more of what we've already liked. These services carefully scan our behaviour and delicately tailor our news feeds with posts, pictures and videos that they think we would most likely want to see."

The anthropomorphising of algorithms aside (an easy mistake to slip into), this is a fundamentally important point. People want an easy life and they want to be entertained. Nothing wrong in that except when it's to the exclusion of the way people used the internet, predominantly, ten or fifteen years ago: "The web was not envisaged as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking."

The very expression "News Feed" says it all - the social media is feeding people a pre-determined stream of pap. Calling it "curated" doesn't make it any better.

And the internet is less and less about seeking out the obscure, the diverse, the non-conformist and the individual.


Barbara said...

Hello Sue, I’m sorry I’ve missed a few of your posts I’ve been up to my ears in boxes and bubble wrap. I can’t remember when I last sold so many books in such a short space of time – 65% off everything was the key!

My Facebook is full of images and videos of cats & dogs – I’ve obviously looked at them in the past, and now I get a daily deluge of them. I’m finding it harder and harder to keep up with all the social media. Facebook and Twitter demand my attention at all times of the day and night. I used to sit down in the evenings with a book now I charge around the Internet trying to look at, like, comment on all the things that have happened during the day. Sometimes I feel like throwing my phone in the river! Oh to get back to simpler days.

Sue Imgrund said...

I feel like that too at times. Cute puppies and kittens (or pictures of them, I should say) used to be confined to chocolate boxes and birthday cards, but they have taken over the internet. I think one of the consequences of Facebook and Twitter ruling the internet waves is that less people are bothering to write a blog, preferring to do updates on "ready made" platforms. It's a shame, as a lot of the original thought is, if not disappearing, becoming so difficult to find, because the search engines increasingly direct you to social media rather than "independent" websites and blogs.

I still like to end the day with my nose in a book, or at least the Kindle.

Sue Imgrund said...

A good article on algorithms and the comfort zone.