Algorithms are everywhere. They decide what news we should see, what friends we should keep up with and even what shows we watch. Their pervasiveness shouldn’t really be a surprise. After all, their promise is an attractive one. You are only going to see the stuff you like. The Internet is going to cater to you.
Algorithms are the Internet’s easy button, giving you just the stuff you want and none of the stuff you don’t. They’re meant to enable us to get the most out of the web.
Algorithms Come with Consequences
Instead, they’ve done the opposite. Algorithms cater to what we engage with, not the stuff we like. Sure, we’ll get served up content shared by our best friends and shows similar to series we’ve already fallen in love with. But they also emphasize the stuff that riles us up, gets under our skin and reinforces the echo chambers we’ve built around ourselves.
Algorithms Dilute Personal Agency
When you look at where we’re at with the Web today, it’s not difficult to come to the conclusion that it’s a less empowering place than it was before. The choices we’re presented with now are curated. They’re prescribed to us by the algorithms running the platforms we visit most. They’ve placed limits on what was once a limitless web.
It’s only now that we’re starting to see the consequences of that. Each of us experiences the news filtered through narratives crafted to get us to click. We each watch shows and dive into narratives different from what we just watched but only incrementally. The majority of our trek across the web is a path that’s been laid before us, not one we’ve made for ourselves.
Algorithms are Due for a Review
Now, we’re starting to have the conversation around whether or not any of this is good. Good for us. Good for society. It’s a conversation worth having because if we aren’t careful, what was meant to help us may end up controlling us.