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  • Raghav Sand

Rabbit Hole: Deep Trouble

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! “I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?” she said aloud. “I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think.” This excerpt from Alice in Wonderland is an appropriate synopsis of the present internet culture.

Internet: A Messy Maze

Internet giants like Alphabet (parent company of Google), Facebook and Snapchat are concerned with a singular statistic – time spent by the user on their platform. Everything else is a futile fad. Recently, some of these companies may have coined terms such as digital well-being, but it is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. The whole business model of these ‘virtually’ free services is based on ads which the user gets to see in their feed. There is an interesting similarity between the internet companies and drug industry – these are the only two industries that address their consumer as user.

More of the Same

Have you ever noticed how YouTube recommendations and social media feed keeps showing us more of what we have been previously watching? The programming executives in these companies have developed sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools after combining cognitive and neurological research. In order to make a user spend considerable amount of time, the subsequent post / article is placed both strategically and effortlessly. For those who are interested in cat videos, there is no dearth of similar content. It’s the same case with automobile / travel / right or left leaning discourse / radicalisation sermons etc. This suggestive nudge, as per a former Google employee, is called the filter bubble.

The Illusory Truth Effect

The illusory truth effect, also known as the illusion of truth, describes how, when we hear the same false information repeated again and again, we often come to believe it is true. Troublingly, this even happens when people should know better—that is, when people initially know that the information is false.

We may be sceptical of a false claim the first time it appears in our timeline, but the more we are exposed to it, the more we start to feel like it’s true—and our prior knowledge can’t prevent this. In the age of social media, it’s easy for misinformation to spread like wildfire. Global politics has already been influenced by online propaganda campaigns, run by people who understand that all they need to do to help a lie gain traction is repeat it again and again. While it may sound dramatic, this is a threat to the integrity of democracy itself, and to the unity of our societies.

The Ever-increasing Screen Time

YouTube and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have seen exponential growth in time spent by its users. No wonder people are making fewer friends as adults. These platforms make the user feel at home and is a form of escape from the monotony. These corporations talk of equality, both in terms opportunity and freedom of expression, but all they seem to have facilitated is the segregation of society. People just don’t have diverse views, but are being methodically polarised. Our societies have never been divided to this extent on fundamental issues. The most alarming fact is the lack of tolerance for others. People seem to have coined a new phrase, ‘One way or no way’. The question here is not about someone being on these platforms, but how much time is being spent on them. YouTube has two billion monthly logged in users. Take a moment, and let that number sink in.

Falling Down and FOMO Culture

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland represents the child’s struggle to survive in the confusing world of adults. To understand our adult world, Alice has to overcome the open-mindedness that is characteristic for children. Apparently, adults need rules to live by. Binge watching is cool, and it is also a tool for the streaming applications / websites. People spend precious time to catch up on the latest series or movie instead of everything else. The fear of missing out (FOMO) compels an individual to watch web series in order to stay level with pop culture. Every individual has the freedom to decide what they do with their time, but someone has to ‘bell the cat’.

It is an unpopular choice to ask adults for a behavioural change, while it is a known fact that no one does less of things which are addictive. There is a sound reason why something gets this tag. Most of you may not know what a twitch stream is. It is streaming of video games played by multiple users at the same time. Viewers pay donations or subscribe to the pages / channels and this is how the revenue model works. Gaming companies pay these gamers to play their games and get a jump in sales after the prompt from modern day influencers.

Switchover to the Deep Neural Network

A deep neural network (DNN) is an artificial neural network with multiple layers between the input and output layers. There are different types of neural networks but they always consist of the same components: neurons, synapses, weights, biases, and functions. These components function similar to the human brains and can be trained like any other machine learning algorithm. Fusion of computer and cognitive science has enabled an algorithm that mimics human brain. It instructs and connects to finds patterns to aid recommendation. With the help of DNN, the software manipulates user preferences and suggest a completely unrelated topic. By doing so its tries to gauge traction for a new subject and if the user ticks all the boxes in the software, he /she is fed more of the same. The recommendation and ‘you may also like’ cycle keep repeating itself with one objective in mind – more watch time per user every quarter. FYI, these numbers makes the share price go up, which is the sole purpose of every corporations’ existence.

“Come, there’s no use in crying like that!” said Alice to herself, rather sharply; “I advise you to leave off this minute!”…. for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people. “But it’s no use now,” thought poor Alice, “to pretend to be two people! Why, there’s hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person!”

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