Shifting the focus of Painters on Paintings temporarily, I wanted to share with you this episode from the podcast The Ezra Klein Show where he interviews Jaron Lanier. For those of you who might not be aware of him Lanier was a pioneer in virtual reality and coined the term. He was part of the contingent of thought leaders emerging from the ashes of the 60s who rejected psychedelics as a mechanism for broadening and deepening human consciousness, championing instead the then incipient fields of cybernetics and electronic technology. Since then he has remained on the frontier of electronic technology, defining, and lately redefining, the radical and revolutionary role it plays in human evolution.
Lanier is very critical of how social media has been engineered to optimize traffic for profit through appealing to our lesser natures, i.e., our brain’s penchant for favoring negative emotions over positive ones. He contributes some important ideas about social engineering, using examples from the Arab Spring, women within video game culture, and Black Lives Matter, describing how what starts out as very positive social movements by individuals rallying to improve the lives of a subset of the larger culture quickly gets subverted by groups who are against such change, through their negative social media posts. Due to our greater attraction to negative emotions those posts ultimately eclipse the initial positive ones as they gain traction in the social media swamp. Because the design of social media maximizes those posts that get more hits and retweets, any positive social gains from the original movement get quickly transformed through the algorithms of social media into a negative backlash. And Twitter and Facebook thereby profit. “You engage people by ruining society and that is the current business model,” says Lanier.
— Julie Heffernan