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  • Writer's pictureJamie Clark

Driverless Humans: Algorithms Are Taking Us on Life's Journey, and We're Just Here for the Ride

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

Reflection


I'd like you to consider the question below.


Take a moment to really think about it.


Do you believe Google has a stronger sense of your preferences than you do?

  • I agree

  • I disagree


In many cases, especially among the younger generation who have grown up in the digital era, I contend that Google might indeed have a better understanding of their preferences than they do themselves.


As a continuation of my recent article, Look Up: life's joys beyond the screen, I would like to zoom in on how the combination of all of our favourite digital platforms are coalescing to erode our sense of agency and self-awareness.


In the age of digital abundance, where every swipe, scroll, and click has the potential to unveil mountains of content, digital platforms have harnessed the power of online algorithms to capture our attention and curate our experiences.


These AI algorithms function like virtual assistants, quietly sifting through vast amounts of information to present us with content that piques our interest - even content we weren't aware we wanted to see.


This is when it becomes problematic: when our active participation in the selection process starts to become overpowered.


 

Human agency


What makes us human is our remarkable capacity for critical thinking, as we continually challenge established concepts and our own beliefs. We shine through our ability to explore our creative depths and push boundaries in new ideas. Our innate curiosity and passion for exploration is what fuels our journey. We flourish in the realm of imagination and wonder, where our minds can roam freely. We find our humanity through spiritual and philosophical contemplation, pondering the profound questions that define our existence.


The true beauty of our humanity lies in the intricate combination of emotions, creativity, discovery, and personal growth.


It is these attributes that make us truly human.


...


And now, we are beginning to offload our conscious decisions to the algorithm.


 

The threat to our sense of independence


A subtle shift occurs as our reliance on these algorithms deepens.


What begins as a delightful journey of discovery can gradually transition into a dependency on the algorithm's choices. We grow accustomed to the platform's finely-tuned content suggestions, and the line between our conscious choices and algorithmic guidance begins to blur.


When we reach this stage, we risk losing a sense of active participation in our online experience. The algorithm, designed to keep us engaged for as long as possible, might create an echo chamber that reinforces our existing beliefs and preferences. This narrowing of perspective can limit our exposure to diverse ideas, hindering personal growth and inhibiting our ability to critically engage with contrasting viewpoints.



Are you stuck?

When we cease to recognise that our content consumption is heavily influenced by algorithms, we surrender a degree of autonomy and agency in our online interactions. We risk becoming trapped in our predefined personas - commodified - and falling deeper into the person the digital world says we are ought to be.


Netflix says: "Don't worry, we know what you should watch next"

Amazon says: "Don't worry, we know which product you want to buy"

Youtube says: "Don't worry, we know what content you'll enjoy"

LinkedIn says: "Don't worry, we can recommend you the jobs you should apply for"

Meta says: "Don't worry, we will make sure we push you content that aligns with your political and social views"

Tiktok says: "Don't worry, we know you should watch this short clip"

Bumble / Tinder say: "Don't worry, we know who you should date"

Spotify says: "Don't worry, we know what next song you'll like"

Kindle says: "Don't worry, we know which books you should read"

Advertisers say: "Don't worry, we know you'll love our product".


The combination of these platforms can overwhelm us to go on a pre-conditioned path in life.


Is it convenient and practical?


Yes.


But it should not be at the detriment of our individuality. We are no longer challenging ourselves with reflections such as:


"Why do I want to watch this film?"

"Do I genuinely want to apply for this job?"

"Do I truly feel this way about this political issue?"


Instead, we are led down a path that, at times, is hard to reverse.


But hey, you can just see what's next.


See what's next

 

Regaining control through conscious consumption


The key to navigating the algorithmic landscape while preserving our autonomy lies in conscious consumption.


Acknowledging the presence of algorithms and their influence on our content feeds is the first step. Regularly evaluating our content consumption patterns, seeking out diverse sources, and engaging with content outside our comfort zone can help counteract the insulating effects of the echo chamber.


Additionally, setting digital boundaries, such as designated screen-free time and limiting app usage, empowers us to reclaim control over our online experiences. Engaging in offline activities, nurturing real-world relationships, and pursuing hobbies beyond the digital realm serve as powerful reminders that life extends far beyond the virtual space.


In essence, by adopting these strategies, we can strike a harmonious balance between the algorithmic conveniences of today, and the preservation of our individuality.


It is when you are alone with your own thoughts, in total solitude, you can take the experiences you are having in your life and fit them into frameworks in which you understand.


This is freedom.







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