The age of algorithms

We are living in a world that is increasingly dominated by the influence of algorithms.

Algorithms alone are neither inherently good or bad but it is worthwhile to spend time knowing how they work and that behind them is someone programming them.

They have become increasingly useful in terms of diagnosing cancer patients for instance, or helping prevent crimes. However, the interactions that people have had with algorithms on a day to day basis has not been exactly anything remotely positive.

It was recently flagged on Instagram and Facebook for instance, that algorithms were programmed in a way that was racist and suppressing the voices of black people.

Furthermore, algorithms used in advertising are becoming increasingly invasive and most people do not know how much of their privacy they have given away on social media.

There are many examples where algorithms have gone rogue and have resulted in disastrous results as highlighted in this article.

The way algorithms were used in the distribution of GCSE and A level results was an outright disaster and disgrace.

In terms of consumption of information and media, the situation can easily be regarded as a mess. There has never been more advertising, but equally so much of it has never been ignored as much as it has today. I am constantly recommended things that don’t particularly interest me and YouTube especially pushes the myth of scarcity to the point that YouTubers were burning themselves out to try and get a consistent amount of eyeballs on their content.

Google searches result in different results for different people and therefore providing a catalyst for misinformation and people not being able to agree on the facts.

The fundamental things that algorithms lack is sonder and empathy; an understanding of the emotion and complexity and unpredictability of humans. Nothing will ever replace the power of word of mouth or the felling to tension and eventual willingness for someone to enrol on a journey of learning or a problem being solved.

Algorithms alone cannot tackle complex problems.

Facebook’s motto for a long while has been ‘move fast and break things’. In the instance of algorithms, it is well worth stopping to take a breath, consider the ethics and implications of living in a world increasingly dominated by algorithms and consider the potential of ways in which they actually improve the way we operate instead allowing them to run amok and causing unnecessary damage.

The Future Bites

This album is meant to be listen in full.

As was the case with many major releases, dates were pushed back from 2020 into 2021 in response to the pandemic for fear of exhausting creativity.

I think they should have just gone and released the full thing and moved on. I held my hat to those who went ahead with releases last year as new music could certainly serve as a tonic for enduring lockdown. Considering the way things have gone for the live music business and the ever sense of uncertainty, there’s no point but to continue creating and shipping in the present circumstances.

The design of the overall record is that it generally should be experienced as a play-through album and I find it quite frankly irritating that artists are finding themselves compromised with this during the streaming, algorithm era where the push out of singles is more an act of racing for attention than an actual artistic statement.

‘The Future Bites’ is an interesting listen. Steven Wilson has gone more down the synth and electronic stylistic pathway and to anyone who looks closely at his catalogue, it is of no surprise that he would pursue this further.

The response on social media, typically propelling the loudest angriest voices, cried betrayal of Wilson selling out, going pop and leaving behind his guitar driven, progressive pathway. It will be completely expected that he will disregard this noise, as with many of the artists that have influenced Wilson, he is never eager to repeat himself and continue to evolve.

It is perfectly fine to not dig the aesthetic and many of my friends much preferred the records where Guthrie and Marco offered their instrumental virtuosity to Wilson’s artistic vision. As they are fellow musicians, that’s an understandable stance.

I am enjoying the record. The production and sound design as always is stellar, in particular, the synth work in ‘King Ghost’ and the accompanying animated video from Jess Cope.

The key thing that continues to make SW captivating is his ability to make an album focus on contemporary themes with clarity and relevance albeit with a familiar sense of melancholy and doom. ‘The Future Bites’ is very much about our interactions with technology, identity, behaviours and consumerism. There is subtle humour and irony amongst the songs. Whilst Wilson critiques social media, there is the self awareness that he is equally as any of us required to interact and to an extent, depend on the technology available to us.

Paying attention vs. Getting attention

It’s a really good idea to clearly distinguish the two. Paying attention is certainly more rewarding and fulfilling than getting attention.

By paying attention, I mean focusing on your creative goals, getting into the zone where time becomes elastic. This has happened to me when I have been working on a track and all of a sudden it is 4am in the morning or when I have been in the studio space and managed to cram 14 hours of guitar tracking into a single day.

Getting attention is an inevitable desire. We have made something and we want to share it with the world. It is of course necessary to have a strategy in place to ship and distribute our work, but for the sake of our mental health, we need to avoid the pitfalls that the combination of social media and the human condition have set up.

Whether I have had something viewed ten or ten thousand times, for the part of the brain that these numbers feed, it will never be enough. The stats are informative but they can also be a race to the bottom. Are we hustlers or are we creators? We must not let the numbers define the value of the creative work we do, especially when the journey is so rewarding for us.

More ‘We’ and less ‘Us and Them’

The western world over the last five years has gone through a bruising period of division and much of the blame can be put down to the way social media works.

Much like the news, it appears that a lot of the things that cause the most response and reaction is outrage and anger. Thus what is amplified is a downward spiral of disinformation and hatred.

I think the social media companies can do much more to tackle this, and whilst we agitate for those changes, it is worth reflecting on how we as individuals can adopt a way to online interaction that is more responsible.

Lefties, Right wing, Snowflake, Gammon, Woke – all of these terms achieve essentially nothing in developing a productive conversation that promotes respectful debate. It becomes a battle of ‘us and them’. You look beyond your feed and in reality, it’s easy to realise that we (as in humans) share a lot more in common.

Even if viewpoints are polar opposite – the approach of ‘we’ or ‘us’ is a much better way to come to an understanding with what our values and desires are, and explore the possibilities available to us.

It is much better to emphasise and treat each other with respect and dignity than point fingers.