Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Vast Extent Of Subtly Manipulated Choice

 The linked article below from Wired is telling, both for how extensive the subtle manipulation of social interaction web sites is, and how effective.

It is also interesting for the admission of Tristan Harris that this has come about not necessarily because of evil intent but because of the inherent, underlying competition for your eyes, ears and mind to be presented with the content of a particular web channel's content.

Nicholas Thompson: You’ve been making the argument that big internet platforms influence us in ways we don’t understand. How has that idea taken off?
Tristan Harris: It started with 60 Minutes and its piece reviewing the ways the tech industry uses design techniques to keep people hooked to the screen for as long and as frequently as possible. Not because they’re evil but because of this arms race for attention. And that led to an interview on the Sam Harris podcast about all the different ways technology is persuading millions of people in ways they don’t see. And that went viral through Silicon Valley. I think several million people listened to it. So this conversation about how technology is hijacking people is really catching on.
NT: What's the scale of the problem?
TH: Technology steers what 2 billion people are thinking and believing every day. It’s possibly the largest source of influence over 2 billion people’s thoughts that has ever been created. Religions and governments don’t have that much influence over people’s daily thoughts. But we have three technology companies who have this system that frankly they don’t even have control over—with newsfeeds and recommended videos and whatever they put in front of you—which is governing what people do with their time and what they’re looking at.
What he's indicating here is the underlying power of an essential aspect of Capitalism; which is, of course, the very fundamental need for potential consumers to first be plugged into your content stream, and then to make sure you do not stray to some other stream channel. Whereupon it does not matter that there may be some useful information, beyond the merely obvious "you (because we know so much about you in the first place) will want to consume this, or this, or this..." etc; It does not matter because you are then recycling the dollars put into providing the stream in the first place, and then sum (because net gain is also so fundamental).

I mention this because it illustrates an important aspect of why trying to reform Capitalism is so virtually impossible. Because in this we see that it is not just laws to curb bad behavior that we are struggling with. It is the very DNA of an operating system that must have certain conditions in place if it is to function at all. And of course one of those is having you mind get consumption messages as often as is possible. And it needs to do that because of another aspect of what has happened to Capitalism.

I mention often now that Capitalism has mutated. To understand that you have to first understand that money, now that it is nothing more than the accumulated switch states, of barely imaginable numbers of servers, must automatically have a new imperative to always flow faster. That is so because if it can, than it must, if for no other reason than at least one competitor will use it their advantage, and you then risk catastrophic loss if you do not as well.

So now you can make money by simply crunching numbers themselves in speculating on the prices, or flow patterns, of everything that is commodity. The competition here is in seeing who can find the cleverest sets of metrics to watch, with the cleverest of relational pattern finding algorithms, with the fastest switching systems with which to do the processing.

You can also still make money on creating more inventive servicing instruments; basically the creation of contractual arrangements to transfer property, of whatever kind, by the means of payment, with an interest premium, over time. What we quaintly used to call paper instruments. That this came to start encompassing other, already created servicing instruments, as property, put us down what should not have been an unexpected road: speculation of a whole new kind because that became the easiest way to increase servicing flow (if there are only so many people who can afford to service whatever instrument, then you have to create a different instrument market, don't you).

And then there is the still predominant way of actually making an actual product, or providing a service. This is the hardest part for the new, mutated Capitalism; precisely because it means putting dollars back into hard copy, in a sense, with the obvious case of the product, but also with the service inasmuch as it goes to a human skill provider, or to the degree your service process requires human skill providers over automation. And the problem there, of course, is that having your dollars thus translated means doing everything you can to get that dollar back as actual consumption. So you have to pull out all of the stops to create the most addictive channel of consumptive message possible. And of course the manipulation described here is but one example of what goes into the saturation of sell and buy that we exist in now. And the depths to which all of our base instincts are used against us to ensure a continued message lock.

This gets worse, though. And we all should have seen it coming. The only way to have an increasing population be able to viable afford to consume ever increasing capacity (because you always have to increase the flow to stay competitive) is to give them the skill positions (as a paying job so they have money in the first place) that ends up only serving to slow down your flow of dollar recycling, as previously stated; because not only is human consumption dependent for getting that dollar back, the human component has become a cost factor that doesn't compete very effectively anymore. So, even with the job, they seem to have less and less, as discretionary income, with which to spend. And boy, isn't that just a monkey wrench into things.

The upshot here is that, capital in a general sense, then tends to start shying away, from making anything of substance, especially from a true human need standpoint, always trying to seek the avenue of least risk; something I that think will build on the already identified historical tendency of money to become ensconced by inheritance into self perpetuating dynasties of instrument holding, risk avoiders.

If you look at this whole mess from this point of view you can see why trying to simply talk back to what is going on, without accepting the structural nature of just how destructive Capitalism has become, is crazy in and of itself. In order to chart a better course for humanity we have to accept that Capitalism is done; it is done and it needs to have more than just a fork thrust into its heart.

I can only hope that intelligent people like Mr. Harris here will come to realize this reality. And the sooner the better.