We have all heard about algorithms, those magical pieces of code written by big tech companies to determine what we are allowed to see on social media sites and in what order.
The code takes into consideration a variety of factors, such as:
- Did someone pay to “boost” or advertise the material?
- Does the content fit into a carefully-crafted profile the social media company created about you? For example, does it appeal to people who think, act and spend like you do because it matches what you bought, liked, viewed, read or searched for in the past?
- Does the material meet the platform’s ever-changing “community standards,” which are vaguely defined on purpose to give the site more control over what you can see?
Thanks to microprocessors, all those questions are answered in the blink of an eye and content is “curated,” or specifically selected for you. If you have never seen the Netflix documentary Social Dilemma, I strongly encourage you to check it out. You’ll see how it all plays out in easy-to-understand terms.
Algorithms are contrary to a purpose-driven life because even though you want more control over your life and how you spend your time, the formula dictates what you are allowed to see. Social Dilemma encourages people to imagine whenever they’re looking at a computer screen, there a thousand invisible computer programmers and marketing experts staring back while discussing what that person should see next.
Canadian pastor Tim Challies wrote a blog a few years ago explaining how people can break free from an algorithm-controlled life. After describing how algorithms work as well as their dangers and benefits, he outlines an excellent solution.
Rather than allowing software to select content for you to consume, create your own stream of news, videos and other material.
Because it works the same way social media algorithms do in selecting content, there is a danger you can create an echo chamber of like-sounding material. But, let’s face it, if you’re going to be in an echo chamber, at least you should control what else goes in it, not some machine.
Being a pastor, Tim wants to see content that matters most to living a good life, enhancing his Christian faith and keeping him equipped, edified and informed. He suggests doing this in five ways:
- Use Feedly or a similar service to take advantage of really-simple syndication (RSS) to subscribe to websites and see all their content whenever you want to view it. If you allow companies like Facebook to determine what you ought to read, you may never see a compelling article that could be the answer you’re looking for just because the algorithm blocks you from seeing it.
- Sign up for email newsletters from trusted sources of news and information. That way it is delivered to your inbox and you don’t have to search for it. By the way, if you like the stories we publish at Forward From 50, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
- Subscribe to specific channels on YouTube. When you do this, new videos released by those channels appear in the sidebar you see on YouTube’s home screen whenever you log in.
- Tweak your social media sites, if possible, to allow you to see updates in chronological order rather than a “most relevant” order created by an algorithm. There is a downfall to doing this. Prolific posters — those to pump out 20 pieces of information every hour — will clog your feed. But, you can control that too by unfollowing that person.
- Some sites, like Facebook, will allow you to see things posted by certain people first when you flag them at the top of your feed. Don’t forget, the algorithms may have already determined a particular post goes against their “community standards,” which will then block the post, video, image or even the person who posted it.
To prevent being drawn into an echo chamber, Tim encourages people to follow trusted sites or creators offering opinions and perspectives different from your own.
When you are trying to lead a more purposeful life, do you really want to give mathematical formulas total control over what you can see, read or listen to?
Like Tim says, “To allow them to judge what we’ll find interesting and informative is to cede to them the authority to withhold from us what they determine is inappropriate or offensive. It’s time to face how much we stand to lose by living the algorithm-driven life. It’s time to break free.”
Tim’s entire blog can be found at www.challies.com.
After closing his business and enduring several painful years of uncertainty regarding what to do with his life, Greg founded Forward From 50 to help men and women over 50 to live more purposeful lives by pursuing things they are passionate about. A Wisconsin native, Greg currently lives in Arizona.