San Francisco, California

The Cage

A few weeks ago I ranted about RSS again:

One of the neat things about RSS I’ve noticed is the number of times I walk away from it feeling awe instead of anger (basically 100% of the time). I think that’s because there’s no money in it, there’s no incentive to profit off my rage.

The reason why I said that is because I often feel as if Twitter or YouTube or basically any service that provides recommendations is trying to make me feel a certain way:

“Who is trying to make me angry” and “is this anger useful” are two really good questions I ask myself on this website.

This is because on the web, rage is more profitable than porn. And I find myself running away from services that manipulate me in this way because they're just designed to make me angry or jealous. And I can feel myself age exponentially as I doom scroll these sorts of websites.

On this note, Jeremy wrote about how there's no way to escape these recommendation systems because we don't know how they watch us as we surf the web. Each click, swipe, and hover sends data somewhere that is then processed in ways that are sort of designed to hurt us:

...what a lack of imagination to look at an existing broken system—that doesn’t even provide good recommendations while making people afraid to click on links—and shrug and say that this is the best we can do. If this really is “the best way to navigate a world of infinite choice” then it’s no wonder that people feel like they need to go on a digital detox and get away from their devices in order to feel normal. It’s like saying that decapitation is the best way of solving headaches.

I felt like that last week. I realized that I couldn't escape the cage: every platform was recommending me something, guiding my life down a path I felt like I couldn’t control. The music I listen to, the videos I watch, the words I see. Everything is guided by this invisible hand.

This is why RSS is the promised land. And, subsequently, this is why I adore Letterboxd. Sure, you can see which movies are popular that week. But all the recommendations are surfaced by movies your friends love. It feels like Twitter in the early days, when a small band of extremely smart people linked to things and said “holy smokes, I love this thing.”

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