Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – (Part 5 – Into The Murky Waters Of The Thought Leaders)

Into The Murky Waters Of Expert Testimonials Thought Leaders

In hindsight, I don’t think my usage of the word expert is appropriate in this piece. I ran with it for the gist of my writing despite this feeling, having no suitable alternative occur to me at the time. However, I now tend to favour Thought Leader over Expert.

Online discourse is driven by many different minds that are regarded as being legitimate schoolers be their many followers (the Intellectual Dark Web is a brilliant example of this), but one is often hard-pressed to make a term like Expert fit. 

Which is why I made the change (with slight alterations for purposes of flow) to the rest of this piece.

On a strictly personal note, I can’t help but notice a big reason why Thought Leader may be out of favour to other options (Expert, Intellectual, Scholar, Philosopher etc). Indeed, this piece is not debunking the legitimacy of many of those labels in these contexts. However, one can see why they are preferable to thought leader, because of what the label entails.  

One brilliant mind. Many adoring and inherently inquisitive fans, to the brilliant ideas of my mind. If this leader were a priest or a cult leader, no one would pay any heed, as that is just how she goes. But if the context is so-called rational discourse on real-world subject matter, one should be inspired to pause and truly consider their position.

Is it REALLY a strawman? Or has the popular thought leader indeed become your new high priest?

Another issue of concern in the realm of educational online content is what I call thought leaders. Generally, these people are academics, with credentials relating to their background. The thought leader is generally seen as an invaluable source of information for inquiries within their chosen field of work or study. However, as you get further out from that sweet spot, it is good to evaluate where one stands. If one has a background in (and credentials relating to) neuroscience, then should they be considered a reliable source for gauging the interconnected and multidimensional layers of a subject like the politics of the middle east?

That is the area in which I want to focus on. Thought Leaders that dabble in areas outside of their studied subject matter, or thought leaders that should know full well that their propagating long debunked nonsense.

At times, these 2 categories merge when the out of their league thought leader invites the junk peddler onto their podcast. After which the aforementioned thought leader is horrified by accusations of racism. These accusations based on many things, one of which includes inviting a racially biased junk peddler onto their podcast. Multiple times.

I kept it ambiguous in the last section I wrote. However, I did tip my hand here (and in the intro) as to EXACTLY who I am speaking of. Those that make the connection may feel the sudden urge to rush to my comments section and remind me that I am clearly viewing the whole thing out of context.

Feel Free. You know my views on free speech. I won’t stop you. Now, whether or not I actually care enough to respond . . . that’s on you.

But enough fun.

Online discourse (well, discourse in general) is an interesting thing. Since it is a free for all, everyone has a say. When you have notable status in society, your say has more impact (be it warranted or not). And when you have become known as a thought leader and have the credentials to back it up, your words carry A LOT of weight. In fact, such speech takes on the status of being almost infallible.

Not because the argument is necessarily strong. And not even because the person has any special insight that can’t be found elsewhere. Its all in the speaker.

Of course, most won’t openly admit this, particularly anyone with any ties to the rational community. None the less, the behaviour says it all.

When it comes to many of the more well-established Thinkers of this space (how I hate that concept and label . . . ), their status seems almost equivalent to that of demigods. Figureheads of a collective case of committing the argument from authority fallacy on a mass scale.

This is indeed a controversial view, not to be taken lightly. Worry not. I show my work.

First off, the obvious. Some arguments just can NOT be won.
You can lead with logic and reason. You can even utilize academics when their scope of focus has bearing on the argument at hand. However, sometimes there will simply be no budging the opposing viewpoint. Whether the cause is stubbornness, fear or the very human tendency to refuse the possibility of being incorrect, the end result is the same. They did their heels in even more, and the only thing accomplished is further strengthening their ideology.

In such cases, it is entirely probable that even relevant expert opinions may be discarded. When critiques of an argument (be it from an authority or not!) can not be agreed upon by way of any validated means of doing so (eg. The scientific method), it can generally be regarded as illegitimate.
This can get tricky when the argument is based around an informational vacuum (a common trait of both conspiracy theory and religious dogma). Having said that, however, one can sometimes change the insight of such situations by simply changing their area of focus. Rather than the
What, consider asking Why (at least in the context of conspiracy theory).

We know that there is simply no changing some people. Even if you brought your die-hard creationist friend to see an evolutionary biologist, it likely still won’t do any good. However, aside from making sure we don’t fall into the same bias traps ourselves, we must ensure that our chosen authorities are indeed the best choice. For example, is an evolutionary biologist the best source for information when it comes to the nature of a given religion (ANY of them)?

Many of us tend to idolize personalities with credentials. I can’t be too judgmental here, because I did a short few years ago as well. Given the celebrity culture that this new digital culture has sprung up from, it’s unsurprising that this is where we are today. But that does not make it any less problematic. Particularly when our standards (in terms of analyzing information) are lowered just on account to the source.
This used to primarily entail celebrities endorsing the idiotic and the asinine (thanks for the new wave of measles, guys!). However, the age of digital video and has given birth to a whole new beast. The phenomenon of the credentialed expert openly willing to speak out of his ass on topics they have little insight into.
This makes the discourse even more difficult. Because after all, I don’t have a Ph.D. or any other credentials (aside from a high school diploma). But THEY do. If a layman can’t trust the decorated academic, then who CAN they trust?

Excellent question, and really, the bane of my existence. One has no idea how much faith (or trust, if you are a so-called Apistevist) one has in anything until they are forced to give it up. Which is what makes most of the following fairly easy for me to grasp, yet a challenge to most others.

It all starts with remembering the primary component in all of this. We are complex creatures, and we have built up complex cultures with complex hierarchies. We have learned to give priority to status and other fundamentally flawed markers of credibility (unless demonstrated otherwise). However, the primary component is, and always will be, the human instinct. For better or for worse, in bias or in accuracy.

In the realm of debate, every single participant is equal until demonstrated otherwise. All humans are prone to the same traits (greed, arrogance, fame etc). While education should theoretically serve to temper these oh so primal phenomenons, it doesn’t. Particularly not when money is increasingly entering the mix.

As should be apparent by now, I generally don’t acknowledge so-called experts thought leaders any differently than I do any other person. Or more, I treat their arguments as no different than that of any other person unless proven otherwise. No one should ever be taken at face value. Certainly not when the ability to check is literally at our fingertips.

Not unlike the YouTube personalities of the last chapter, it is not unreasonable to question motives. Why is this person lending credence to this idea?

There is indeed a bit of a pattern here at work here. A pattern that can be summed up by my life lesson of the past 2 years or so. That being simply that we are all human, for better or worse. Education is a good way to help soften the rough edges of the mind, but none the less, the human mind is still the human mind.

Whether the argument is coming from a layman or a decorated intellectual, it must receive the same critical analysis as any other. Particularly so when the expert of authority making the argument (or being cited) is talking beyond their typical scope of research.
However, this is not the only thing to watch for.
Some people are experts in fields that others have long since debunked. Topics that were once previously displaced and left behind, have now made a comeback in the 
Free and open marketplace of ideas.

The free and open marketplace of ideas is a handy and useful thing, at least in theory. Everyone speaks, no one is stifled, and the bad ideas are destroyed by the sunlight that is the opposing arguments.
While it works well in
theory, there is an unacknowledged assumption that all participants are equally equipped to account for all aspects of the debate stage.
Though all voices indeed get heard, there will always be a bias towards the crowd pleaser. Your argument is only as strong as it’s best representative.

Like the big personalities of YouTube, many of the most referenced academic voices of such people also live in that space. They have YouTube Channels and are active on social media. Many have monetized their materials VIA YouTube partnerships, Patreon and other ways. Not unlike much of the rest of the most popular white noise of the space.

It’s hard to point a finger because short of being able to read minds, proving motives can be next to impossible. Having said that, however, fame and fortune are still an excellent corrupter of the mind. Though the modern definitions are slightly modified (you no longer need to break into the societal mainstream to achieve fame), the same phenomenon applies. Add in a healthy dose of personal arrogance in combination with being surrounded by primarily yes men for an entire career, and you end up with a formidable challenge of an academic.
This is not to say they don’t ever 
debate or converse with opposing views. They just tend to pick the lowest of hanging fruit of every criticism available, and then gain merit for debunking that.

Frankly, much of the Nu-atheist movement in a nutshell.

It may make for entertaining pablum for devoted followers of these academics, or for the participants in their various communities. But if my cats could have achieved similar results, I am not impressed.

Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – (Part 4 – The Power Of Charisma)

The Power Of Charisma

 

We now come to another point of concern I touched on earlier. That is the mass promotion of information based primarily on its popularity (as measured by content interaction). I do not have much concern when it comes to mass showcased content (for example, the general trending now section of a site showing what content is generally liked by most users across the entirety of the platform). Media has always been dictated by collective trends, and this is just a newer (and far more quickly adaptable) variant of this phenomenon. The problem with this methodology arises when the same type of phenomenon is broadly applied within a micro-targeted environment.

Or I should say, problems can arise. It all depends on what kind of niche content one is dealing with.

The social media business model is all about interaction. Something insiders (and increasingly psychologists) have labelled The Attention Economy (remember that?). These platforms and apps bread and butter rely on keeping their users engaged as long as possible, so they use every trick in the book to accomplish this (even psychological manipulation akin to that of a slot machine).

Is this Ethical?

Good luck getting a straight answer to that question.

One of these methods which are employed by platforms is called micro-targeting. It’s all based around the sum of your interactions with the platform. Based on both the information that you share and on your behaviour within the platform environment, the algorithm learns about your various preferences and begins tailoring your daily feed based on this information. This is based on every kind of behaviour, from the explicit (liked products or shared content) to the implicit (how long you lingered on an item before scrolling past).

Platforms take this data and compare it against the millions of samples already in their possession, focusing on serving up the content that is most broadly appealing across the given cohort. With the massive database they are working with, it’s almost impossible for a user to NOT fit into some widely cast net. No matter how individualistic one likes to think you are.

Which made for an interesting new twist to the term Trendy (or in online terms, what is trending now). While one still has trends that cross most demographic boundaries (what I call Macro Trends), there exists a new phenomenon. What I like to call Micro Trends. Such trends are generally limited to a fairly small demographic within the larger picture. However, these demographics can range in size from thousands and tens of thousands to millions and can encompass pretty much any subject matter you can think of. Though I label them Micro Trends, the size of some of them is hardly representative of the word.

As with any other human endeavour, where there is an opportunity there are opportunists. There is generally no shortage of the white noise present in any given popular online topic. However, some traits can help a person rise to the top of the pile.

While these topics have chatter in every form available, there is an inherent bias when it comes to the written word. It’s not exactly a bad thing. When given the choice between reading a fairly lengthy blog post or watching a video (of any length), most will opt for the path of least resistance. Despite my love of the written word, even I prefer getting most of my news in the form of short clips. It’s just the nature of the current paradigm.

To be successful in this format, one first has to have some level of public speaking ability. Whilst one is not necessarily talking live to an audience potentially bigger than any venue on earth could handle, you still have to keep them engaged. Which is where charisma comes in. Though it could be possible to teach this trait, it just comes naturally to some people.

Since social media is a toy and a time waster for a person’s free time, you have to give them a compelling reason to watch your content. If a person has the charisma of a 10th-grade biology teacher who hated teenagers and should have given up his career 20 years previous, you won’t do very well in the marketplace. However, if a person has the natural charm to enteral a crowd in combination with a passion of any sort, you will gain ground. You have the potential to become trendy, even if just for a localized demographic.

I happened across a nice example of this while out for coffee with friends recently. In the form of a YouTube channel run by a retired mechanic named Scotty Kilmer. He seems to know his stuff well and presents this material in an entertaining fashion. As such, he has become very popular (over 1 million seven hundred thousand subs) in his localized demographic.

This system generally has few implications in the realm of benign topics and material. However, problems can come up when the often complex realities of the real world meet the simplistic comprehension of the average layman. Take that not as an insult, but as an observation. Not everyone has the time or desire for in-depth insight into everything, so we make do with what we’ve got (I have a tax guy that I trust for a reason). And what we’ve got, is an ever-growing library of knowledge of every type imaginable. All at our fingertips, generally in whatever format we prefer (be it text or video). All continually updated and curated by millions of people from all different backgrounds.

The obvious downside of this being, it is contributed to and curated by people of all backgrounds. A million different opinions and viewpoints to satisfy a million different curiosities. Even if the material is less word of the gospel than universally agreed upon fact. Take Scotty Kilmer, the popular mechanic I made mention of earlier. Upon probing by a friend of mine with a bit of experience in the trade, I learned of some of Scotty’s not so well documented flaws. Ranging from seemingly unwarranted smearing of German makes (particularly Mercedes) to not knowing where the fuel pump is located on a Toyota Rav 4, all the way to recommending a highly dangerous fix to use on ones brake lines.

I am not an academic elitist. I don’t dismiss an individual’s right to an opinion, nor their right to publicly share it as they please. For me, democratized media is still better than the alternative reality of a decade or 2 previous (despite the flaws). However, where we as a society dropped the ball was in any manner of education regarding this medium beyond the very basic. People learn how to use operating systems, apps and other user interfaces, increasing the number of IoT connected devices that they own as the years march on. What we do NOT learn about, are long term implications (and the virtually unlimited lifespan) of pretty much any public facing interaction with the internet. Nor do we learn about the importance of cybersecurity not just for our own good, or the good of all in our interconnected online orbit, but also for the good of the whole of the internet itself. Few know that older (or simply unpatched) consumer hardware and IOT are a growing source of many online attacks (most notably DDoS attacks), with the most common source devices being old printers and routers. Devices that came out of the box 7 or 8 years ago, but then were forgotten. But whilst good cyber housekeeping and hygiene are important, far more pertinent to this paper is the mass oversight of what was once a common sense rule of thumb (albeit, targeting a different medium). An old adage that (somewhat ironically) lives on in memes one still sometimes sees on social media.

You can’t believe everything you see on TV.

I remember seeing the commercials when I was a kid. There was one with a giraffe, and if I recall, a house hippo. But whilst this would seem to be more important a safeguard to internalize than ever, it seems to have gotten lost in the transition. Filed away somewhere between an MSN chat and a Geocities website.

The concept that I am grappling with (or it seems, the lack thereof) is media literacy. The ability to critically analyze the information you are presented with for any biases or other factors of which may shift your viewpoint in a given direction (be it intentional or not). Though it is a global problem (on account the internet being a global phenomenon), there are variations to the degree of media literacy in people. One of the most obvious predictors in generational.

One can generally drop a pin in at around the millennial generation. From us and forward, people tend to be more aware of the shortfalls of the internet. Going backwards from the millennial’s however, the trend tends to be reversed the further away ones get back. I suspect this to be a product to the very different environments in which we all grew up. 4 different generations, ranging all the way from one that embraced this late in life, right to one that grew up with this technology embedded in modern existence.

Media literacy has never been a priority for society. It’s highly unhelpful to have the cogs TOO educated when just enough to keep the machines running is adequate to run an economy. In this new paradigm, however, learning of the pitfalls of the internet the hard way has meant that subsequent generations tend to view the internet with some skepticism. As opposed to the old, who consume media in exactly the same ways as they consumed the old media. Without any analysis whatsoever.

Though one big thing that has changed is the amount of reach they now have. Instead of being limited to the living room or the local coffee shop, they now have the ability to engage with anyone connected to them. Since the mean number of friends that the average Facebook user has is around 200, that is a whole lot of potential eyes.

In the realm of media literacy, fake news tends to be the focus. And for obvious reasons. After all, we are still grappling with the potential consequences of intentionally orchestrated fake news campaigns. However, there is one new phenomenon of the new media space (particularly in the video category) which is arguably even more slippery than even fake news. That is a segment of the space that I will call Academic YouTube. Not because many of them are in any way fitting of the word. More, because that is the label that many like to assign themselves.

This is a huge umbrella term, encompassing of all manner of content made available to help the public enrich their minds. While there can be good material to be found here, like every other area of the web (and life, really), the other stuff ranges from very light grey to black hole. It’s a cohort that tends to be difficult to analyze because of the sheer amount of nuance involved. Outside of the good stuff, you have the seemingly unknowingly misinformed. Along with those, you have those that SHOULD know they are playing with a flawed deck of cards, but apparently, don’t care. Since we can’t read minds, it’s hard to know who is truly misguided, and who is just playing the part.

We now come back to the concept of charisma. With the open mic show that online streaming platforms are, many will jump on camera to share, rant or otherwise discuss something they are passionate about. But only the most entertaining and engaging personalities will rise to the top. This dynamic is true for regular people, and this dynamic is also true for online intellectuals. Well, intellectuals.

While passion no doubt plays a pivotal role in determining people take the stances that they take on a variety of issues, the evolution of how fans can support content creators has also added a whole new layer of uncertainty to the situation. Digital payment processors like Patreon have not only made up for falling revenue shares for YouTube partners but have now more than ever before, begun to eclipse these earnings. Indeed, this can be a hard claim to back, with the choice to disclose the true amount of funding a creator is getting firmly in their hands. More to the point, however, are the questions in which financial commitments should raise. One of the selling points often parroted by these creators (layman or intellectual) is that they are independent. While most of the news commentators do this a lot (aligning under the banner of independent media), individuals often make this point too. Since the YouTube platform essentially serves as a firewall between creators and their ad revenue, they are supposedly not subordinate to any bosses or other hierarchy.
While this is in a sense true (they are not in a big corporations pocket, generally), one has to consider if the new
bosses are the financial supporters of the material. In the so-called Marketplace Of Ideas, these ones have obviously struck a chord with many. However, if the day comes when this seemingly correct way of thinking is ever exposed as being incorrect, would the supporters accept this? How can you tell if a paid commentator is being authentic with their beliefs when their lifestyle (or potentially even their livelihood) may well be tied up in communicating these beliefs?

When it comes to many of these instances, there is no way to tell. In a sense, you take it on faith that you are not being hoodwinked by a modern day charlatan. This may be an easy circle to square for many, but not for this overtly analytical critic of all that is.

You may notice that I said earlier that one must take it on faith they are not being deceived by a charlatan. This actually is a problem that comes in 2 layers, in terms of potential corrupting sources of funding. And only one of them involves the organic dollars of the crowdsourcing platforms.

It is incredibly easy for traditional lobbyists of traditionally elite benefiting ideas to fund creators which are singing the right tune. They have always done this. However, YouTube is just the path to reaching the latest generations.

And so we come to yet another generational divide brought on by innovation.

In order to reach the powerful voting blocks of both the Baby Boomers and Gen X, Television, radio and print were (and really, still are) the way to go. If not through advertising, than in buying up enough of a stake in these organizations so as to have a say in what makes it to the newsroom floor. However, since the Millennial and Z generations are killing traditional media forms such as print, a new way to target this demographic (and growing voting block) had to be found. And though these kids don’t seem to read much nor watch much television, a huge number of then use YouTube. And not only do they use YouTube, but they also willingly seek out educational content exploring all manner of different ideas. Some of these ideas are beneficial for the status of the elites. Some of these ideas are harmful to the status of the elites. However, all it takes is a small investment to ensure that the ideas that YOU want to spread, go far and wide. All you have to do is work with the voices that are already on the scene, doing the work for you. As these channels grow in popularity, the fans spread the message even further. Considering that each Facebook user has about 200 friends, no advertising campaign could hope to come even CLOSE to that amount of market penetration. Much like the days of AM radio, if you throw funding to 100 seedlings, one of these shows is bound to gain traction and become influential to your target audience. The same is true for cable news. And the same is true for YouTube.

Ideas are big money. Or more accurate, trending ideas are big money.

All of this may come off as a tad conspiratorial. Given that the burden of proof is almost impossible to meet, it’s not unfounded criticism. However, such is just another aspect of the world we live in. With new technology and means of mass communication comes a new means of deceiving people. After all, such opportunities don’t disappear with time, they just evolve.

Such is why I decided to leave this piece ambiguous, politically or otherwise. I know what this looks like to me. I have more than a few examples that I am familiar with. However, since your micro-targeted existence likely differs from mine, I want you to be able to identify these problems in your own context. Free of bias, be it your or mine.

Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – (Part 2 – Freedom Of Speech & Expression)

Freedom Of Speech & Expression

Though the fate of the once mighty private and governmental media companies remains a mystery, current technological developments have now matured enough to make some unforeseen consequences blatantly obvious. Whilst the list here is ever growing, I will (in this set of writings) focus on implications of the nature of the business model in regards to what this space has metamorphosed into. When I say digital space, note that I am talking about the backbone internet infrastructure in its entirety. Not only the most common foe in the dialogue (various social media platforms), but also the backbone ISP’s that tie it all together. In a world where weakening net neutrality rules are rapidly becoming a reality for millions, it’s important to keep these 2 issues combined. Whether its platform X censoring your otherwise granted right to freedom of speech and/or expression, or your ISP (be it broadband or mobile carrier) arbitrarily deciding what will traverse within the pipes of its network infrastructure, it is us (the consumers) that are the losers in the end.

The 2 issues that have become increasingly problematic in this paradigm are free speech, and the artificial alteration of peoples worldviews on a mass scale (often unknowingly) simply as a consequence of doing business. Somewhat ironically, the previous issue actually plays right into this issue. More on that later.

I will start with freedom of speech and expression. But first off, some house cleaning.

There are many people who run around calling themselves Free Speech Absolutists. Speech is considered to be of the utmost importance, period. At the risk of committing the straw-man fallacy, I am forced to seriously question if many of these people have actually followed the logic through to its conclusion.

Part of it is my observation that few things as nuanced as this have rational conclusions along the fringes of ideology. But the biggest factor is that I simply can’t square the circle as required by the absolutist position. I am not sure if the end result of absolute freedom of speech and expression is really worth all of the seemingly overlooked (and woefully understudied) ramifications of such speech. This does not stop me from behaving as an absolutist in my encounters with the world at large. However, the way I operate in both the digital and the real world is hardly comparable to the most obvious example to cite. The zealot sitting atop the extremely influential soapbox.

Until this position becomes more based in researched conclusion than in reactionary ideology, I can not give it the light of day. If forced to slap an identifier on it, I would probably say Free Speech Agnostic. In a world of greyness, forced black and white interpretations are rarely helpful.

Not that this has much bearing on this context of free speech and expression, anyway. However, it is related (as I will demonstrate in the following paragraph).

The growth of the digital space as a permanently embedded extension of both our personal space AND the public square runs into the fundamental problem that is privatization. The vast majority of this infrastructure is owned by private for-profit companies. Thus, you are generally not the owner of the content (or data) you generate or the space you inhabit. You are, in a sense, a renter. Paying for your spot in the machine with the most valuable currency of the modern era. . . your data.

Having said that however, the data bit is another issue altogether (potentially for another piece). What is more important here is the TOS or the digital equivalent of a rental agreement. It outlines all of the do’s and don’t s of participation within the proprietary ecosystem in which you currently reside. Which is generally not an issue if you are just a run of the mill person sharing cat memes and recopies. However, it becomes a big issue if you are, say, Alex Jones or Milo Yiannopoulos.

Is it ethical to allow such damaging figures to amass such devoted followings? Again, I don’t know how to answer that question. However, I am definitely reluctant to hand that task off to an opaque entity with a documented history of getting it wrong. An entity which could theoretically turn against any narrative if given the right market conditions.

When it comes to solutions, this is another area in which free speech absolutists tend to leave a person wanting. When pushed, many tend to just play the utopia card (“This is how it should be!”).

Indeed.

However, Bernie Sanders (and others) have been singing that tune about the private for-profit healthcare system for DECADES. When literally billions of dollars are at stake, it will always fall on deaf ears.

Others suggest mandated enforcement. A few of my far left role models even promote socialization as an option (absorbing private social media platforms into the public sector).

I can’t say that I like either option, both seeming to present obvious drawbacks. First, because it amuses me to see so many free-market praising libertarian (or Classical Liberal) types suddenly being for so-called tyrannical violence against a sovereign entity. I am not actually TRYING to strawman people . . . it’s just hard not to when so many don’t seem to know what the hell they are talking about.

The other reason I am not a big fan of government intervention is two-fold. First, we should have considered this before privatizing the entirety of the ecosystem. And second, is because we could easily build alternatives to the neutral pablum loving behemoths. All it takes is an investment of some time and capital. Though the time and specialized labour variables are an issue for many busy opportunists, capital is not.

There exists many a podcast (and individual, really) that milks the tit of free speech for every dime that it is worth, for YEARS. They generally don’t actually DO anything, they just talk about it. You know, the free and open marketplace of ideas and all that jazz. This, despite the fact that a suspiciously high number of these supposedly open platforms have a quite visible political bias.


Either way, if even half of the individuals that funded these linguistic circle jerks put that cash into developing and building some form of alternative to the status quo media platforms, problem solved!

Whilst net neutrality is a big consideration here, the internet was designed not to observe international boundaries. If even China can’t keep their citizens 100% away from the prohibited materials as dictated by the regime, one can easily develop the free speech and expression utopias that one desires.

I conclude this, the free speech tangent, with 2 helpful pieces of advice:

1.) Know what you are talking about, free speech absolutists. Reality does not end at your mental shortcomings.

2.) Stop supporting pro-free speech talkers and funding pro-free speech platforms. Whilst my proposed solution does heavily depend on strong net neutrality legislation, it is easily doable. Possibly overnight is someone was so inclined.

Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – (Part 1 – Introduction)

The following is a series of pieces exploring different aspects of the evolution of the internet as we know it, along with our evolution to having this new tool present in our lives. Though it currently is broken up into 7 parts, this may change as things occur to me that I hadn’t considered before. Therefore, it’s an open-ended project.

One of at least a couple that I have in the works. I hope you enjoy it.

Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – Part 1

Introduction

We are bearing witness to a very interesting time in human history. In fact, in terms of information sharing, the paradigm in which we live in is as influential as the birth of the process itself VIA the printing press. Looking back from some point down the road, I sense that the period between the mid to late ’90s and onward will be seen a turning point in terms of information distribution and the media landscape. The period when the main influence-rs switched from a select few to the majority.

Having grown up with these tools (or at least have seen them evolve before our very eyes) can desensitize a person to the huge shift that has just taken place. The shift where what was previously only science fiction, became an everyday day to day reality. Like the telephone or electricity, it is just another invisible layer to modern-day existence. While the tools are now normal to all but the most stubborn (or the least privileged. May as well be honest) of us, the journey of how we got here is an important one.

When it comes to mass distribution of information, the printing press was a powerful tool. One not to be taken lightly, should one be a King or otherwise a leader with a wish for unquestioned influence. A big reason why the printing presses of the world (along with all subsequent mass information distribution inventions that followed, excluding one) ended up under very strict control. Newspapers, radio and eventually television had big promise, and as such, they were relegated to the tight security of private corporations and government bodies.

So it went on until ARPANET was born (thanks to research funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (hence ARPA) and the US Department of Defence. They developed the first network to utilize the TCP/IP protocol, which would become the basis for the modern day internet.

Though the information availability landscape started to shift as access to computers was becoming more ubiquitous, the phenomenon didn’t explode until the period between around 2002 and 2006. The time frame when household broadband, WiFi and portable device access (along with the birth of the smartphone revolution) became realities accessible to the average consumer. This time also saw the birth of what are still some of the most populated and heavily trafficked social media and utility platforms of the internet. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the other anchors of today were just getting started. Seemingly overnight, every one of us went from being forced to consume what content looks best (often from an overall pile of crap), to be able to consume or create anything.
What was once simply
the media became the legacy media. And participation in what was seemingly a universal activity just a few years earlier (paying for a cable television subscription) suddenly became a relic of a past generation. While cable television is often still a part of Gen X and Baby Boomer entertainment diets, the same can not be said for most ageing out post-Gen X. Though it started with us millennial’s, it’s only more pronounced as newly minted generation Z is now starting to age out into adulthood. I don’t know what comes after, but they may well be amazed by the concept of entertainment for 100% tailored to them.

Given this, the current model has a WHOLE lot of money tied up in legacy television infrastructure of which may well become obsolete in 20 or 30 years. It will be interesting to see how this game changer pans out. In North America, many of the most ubiquitous ISP’s also have huge investments in such infrastructure, so you naturally see increasingly thinly veiled attempts to stamp out this bitter new reality to their old business model. And with net neutrality as good as gone in the United States (at least at the time of this writing), ISP’s will not even need to veil their mitigation as traffic management or some other nonsense.

Though it is a sector filled with uncertainty, I am certain of one thing… those who keep hedging their bets on past business models WILL be the Blockbuster Video of tomorrow. It’s not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.