We’ve all felt like our phones are listening to us all the time – right?
And they are – or rather they allegedly only listen when we talk to them.
Seems harmless enough.
But I’ve been observing the way convenience has been influencing modern society for a bit. I’m not sure if it’s true innovation or just manipulation disguised as such.
No need to be spooked, just here to make you think – here are 9 disturbing ways society is being shaped by algorithms.
1) Algorithms can be programmed to be biased
They can become self-sufficient to a certain degree using the information we feed them.
But there is still a programmer behind them. Therefore algorithms can be used to perpetuate harmful ideologies.
For example, if a bank decides to use AI to make decisions for who they give out loans to. Or what if your job decides to use it to hire people?
It sort of cuts out humanity as the middleman and gives access for social biases to take control of serious, life altering situations.
Hate is also a culmination and an extreme expression of fear, which is an emotion that a lot of these algorithms target to gain your attention and time.
And speaking of the information that is fed to create these algorithms, where are they coming from?
2) Our privacy is becoming compromised
The main way a lot of these algorithms gain data is by monitoring your use of social media.
It’s not just apps.
Websites, security cameras, public records, and more can be used to generate data to create a profile that algorithms can target.
And the problem isn’t the mass surveillance that’s happening in the form of data. But that this kind of access tech companies are allowed to have is becoming normalized.
I’m not sure why society is like this.
Perhaps humans just don’t care unless it’s our personal secrets being targeted. Or perhaps not enough of us are aware of how this can affect our futures.
Luckily, there are ways for you to protect yourself by carefully reading privacy policies and double-checking your app settings.
But the real solution is for the government and those in charge of regulating these privacy laws.
3) They create social echo chambers
So they have your data, and they’ve created a profile – now what?
Well, now you’ve become a target for propaganda or any other messaging people with enough money got for you.
Not only that, but your ability to form independent thoughts could be compromised.
Even the most “woke” and socially aware can get into these traps. Because you have to remember that growth only happens when you expose yourself to different perspectives.
On the other side of the spectrum, people who perpetuate hateful ideologies might get an ego boost or the motivation that causes them to be comfortable being oppressive.
We’ve seen what happened on January 6th with the Capitol riots. If you get together with a bunch of people with the same opinions, chaos and misinformation is inevitable.
4) It’s easy to spread misinformation
Speaking of chaos, mass spread of misinformation is at its peak right now.
The way a lot of algorithms function is that they are more likely to show what gains the most clicks or interactions.
Which means there is usually more sensational content being passed around, than let’s say, an activist educating others on how the world is slowly coming to its own demise.
Even if the content is tailored to you, you’re more likely to see a strain of things that radicalize you based on your blindspots.
No one is immune to propaganda – if you want to stay on your For You Page without its influences, there’s a huge need to take social media breaks.
Moreover, misinformation is extremely difficult to correct once it’s out there.
Not only do you need to educate yourself by seeking facts, but it can be hard to go against your emotional reactions that feel like what you saw was the truth.
5) Job displacement in certain industries
The rise of automation has raised an issue of jobs becoming replaced with machines.
We could go on about what kinds of jobs are replaceable but the list would be endless because technology is constantly evolving.
Instead, I’d like to bring to attention how people’s lives are dependent on their jobs. And how unstable our society is being exposed to be.
It raises the question of how we have to worry now about how people are going to survive, but the future of our society and economy.
And when you take away all the jobs that require labor, what’s left?
Generally, jobs that require technological literacy, creativity, and higher levels of problem solving skills.
Which will only create a bigger divide in class because of the growing gap between those who can adapt, and those who weren’t built for this kind of a society.
6) Lack of creativity in certain industries
The creative world is under pressure in the middle of these technological crises because we are the only industry that is underpaid, yet we are deemed as “irreplaceable.”
Even as a content writer, I’ve wondered if my job is that important if there’s programs like ChatGPT.
Another problem this brings up is how a lot of corporations don’t care about being creative, so they will jump at the opportunity to replace us with these new technologies.
As a result, industries like marketing and content creation will begin producing work that lacks that “human touch.”
Meaning things like nuance and originality that challenge our current world views are going to be thrown out the window.
In addition, a lot of people look to art to be inspired. And not that I support this, but they look to creative industries to see what’s “in.”
It will be subtle at first but in a few years, there will be less art and more conformity.
7) Increase in unnecessary conformity
Algorithms analyze data to identify patterns and trends, and these industries use that data to shape what they want to suggest to consumers.
Under the guise of personalization, what ends up happening is that these consumer choices just become predictable.
So are your preferences really yours? It’s worth asking yourself in order to maintain your autonomy as a consumer.
The feeling of having your preferences served on a platter also keeps you from expanding your worldviews.
And with the added effect of the echo chamber that we talked about, questioning the community you build through it can become difficult.
Which as we know, can influence your critical thinking skills because you’re too concerned about going against the grain.
8) Decrease in critical thinking
Listen, I’m all for technological advancement.
Especially if it helps those who are marginalized or disabled. But that’s certainly not the case when it comes to our capitalistic society.
Instead, we are seeing people become overly reliant on these algorithms to make decisions for them because somehow we’ve mistaken convenience with competence.
Algorithms are designed to offer quick and easy solutions by cutting out the labor it takes to make them.
They tell us what to buy, who we should connect with and even what to believe. But the people in charge of these programs don’t know you.
Nor do they necessarily want the best for you!
Morality and healthy skepticism are necessary if you want to make good decisions that don’t just serve you in the short-term.
They take a while to develop as well and go beyond just knowing what works and doesn’t.
Speaking of having a balanced world view, next we’re going to talk about empathy.
9) Decrease in empathy
I was having a conversation the other night with a journalist.
She was assigned to write a “listicle” on the impact of the housing crisis on people. And she felt so conflicted because this was such a real and heartbreaking issue.
How could she possibly write an easy to digest content on it?
We are in the age of convenience, but that convenience is at the price of having access to in-depth, empathetic understanding of complex issues.
It’s not just journalists that are impacted this way.
As an audience your perception is heavily influenced by vitality and speed of the content being produced.
Start by seeking more long-form content and nuanced discussions in your community to counteract this.
And empathy is like a muscle, you need to slow down and dig deep here and there if you want to keep it intact.
So is the only way to combat these ways society is being shaped, to gatekeep our data?
Partially – yes. But you can’t live your life looking over your shoulder when it’s not your job to keep this information safe.
And with data becoming something totally subjective, it’s hard to keep track of what is worth protecting and what’s not.
So yes, support privacy regulations but really, start questioning!
Every time you read something, it’s worth researching who the source is. As well as expose yourself to different perspectives, even the ones you might have an adverse reaction to.
And limit your screen time!
The world may not know what brand of milk you like the best, but it’s where everything else is.
As the kids say, go touch grass.