Bush the Younger once smirked: "I can explain it to ya, but I can't understand it for ya." I don't for a minute believe he thought that up hisself. For what follows, I wish somebody could understand it for me. But as a retired programmer of databases and CAD systems, my relationship to all this is a little closer than, say, the relationship of a cargo-cult to a Fedex terminal. So here's my best guess.
Nowadays the talking screen-objects that get the most clicks, likes, follows, and so on, are draped in the mantle of Authority for said clicker-liker-followers. But how do people choose among all the authoritative pundits, talking-heads, preachers and demagogues, gushing out of their screens?
Simple: they don't have to choose among them. That was all taken care of by some algorithm.
The logic of this doesn't seem all that unusual, when we consider that the Internet is a human artifact; and that the eye reports to the brain about twenty percent new information. The rest of the image is fed to the retina from the cerebral cortex. The brain gets some new information from the light coming in, but eighty percent of seeing arrives in the opposite direction, from memory. That's been demonstrated with popular videos of somebody in a gorilla suit walking through a ball game.
This is strikingly similar to how information appears on our screens. Because of the algorithms in Great Googly-moogly and the Book of Faces (our externalized brain), most of the traffic is not coming from the Internet to our screens. Of course not: the purpose of Information is no longer to inform. It was superseded by aggregated Attention, which works so much faster, albeit in the opposite direction.
The "providers" don't care about providing anything, they exist to consume, at unprecedented scale. The "big data" involved is not the commodity, it's a byproduct, like the environmentally-detrimental "flares" at oil refineries. It's a stage in transporting and processing the actual commodity. Aggregated attention, on-the-hoof as it were, is both raw material and catalyst, both crop and fertilizer.
There's a feedback loop, in which the attractant pulls in Audience, whose reaction serves the purposes of the content-originators, and whose "metadata" is strip-mined. Meaning, let's be real, every scintilla of information from users' keyboards, hard drives, internet accounts, GPS locations, POS and tollbooth transactions, microphones and cameras; your "privacy," to you; your "profile" to the "providers."
In this new industry the raw material is your eyeballs. The extracted ore is those famous thousands of data-points on "a thousand points of light" (you and me and everyone we know; or "like" anyway). And that treasure-trove is where the hellspawn of Hell's pawn, the late and unlamented (but extraordinarily fecund) Cambridge Analytica, go to work. The usual work: Market Segmentation, compartmentalizing populations of voters, reactionaries and "persuadables" to enact massive wealth-transfers, legal voter-suppression, free-market evangelical deregulation, legal health insurance restrictions based on employer prejudice; and of course, to tilt elections.
Recycling the BD as chum -- no: it's fly-fishing now, each user presented with hand-tied bait exactly matching their bite, just where they can swallow it whole with a click. This forms up new Audience blocs for extraction, smelting, condensation and so on. The whole cycle spins through again: by a commodious vicus of recirculation, as it happens, the BD derived from the eyeballs is fed back into the parameters that drive the algorithm that drives the blablablah. And roundabout and roundabout we go.
And there we are. Your basic self-licking ice cream cone. Business is booming.
This is tricky. I'm sure I'm oversimplifying a little.
To get your credit score and your sexual proclivities and your mood, and to predict your next move; and lest we forget those burgeoning, proliferating hellspawns, to direct your next move; a fuckton of BD must be churned and centrifuged and steamed open and condensed down, and it comes out here: your Behavioral Profile. That's where the choosing happens. As to which pundits, talking-heads, shouting preachers, and guys in gorilla-suits, get to blast out of that particular screen belonging to you.
So my friends and neighbors who refuse to bother about aseptic precautions whilst running a local roadside convenience store in a pandemic are not crazy, malicious, antisocial wing-nuts, after all.
They're just innocent users of "free" screen services provided by G, F, T, I &c. All those handy little icons lined up at the bottom.
Our neighbors and friends and family, and we ourselves, never knew when we chose our demographic. Something else does that. An algorithm. A bot. A few lines of code somewhere in, I don't know, Utah, probably every state in the union. In a server-building pulling the kilowatt-hours of a city or a Bitcoin mine just to keep the microchips from meltdown.
The algorithm, see, loops through our profile and pulls up everything we clicked-liked-followed, and does the math, and then feeds us only those screenface-objects that make it through that precise sifter. So all they ever get to see is mediated through this mechanism, for purposes we know nothing about.
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