Wednesday Workshop: Mechanical

The electrons light up pixels, feeding targeted content into our worlds. We don't make these worlds, nor do we control them, as subconsciously biased hands write algorithms to control the streams of information we are expected to react to.

They show, we react.

I ask myself where are the streams of information I would want to see, grand, sweeping vistas of buttes and plains covered in snow, with massive elk herds wandering across the prairies as their breaths turn to vapor in the chill air. Rain-forests so full and lush the sky itself becomes a multi-layered canopy of green in a world where life itself clings to every surface, moss so thick one could lie on it like a mattress, and layers of rot and rebirth in an endless cycle of the meaning of life. Shorelines of rocky, jagged majesty where the spray soars high in the air and seagulls circle above, floating effortlessly in the sky as the pure azure blue of the sea contrasts the endless blue sky above, dotted by careless clouds, and covered in the warm sun.

These are the worlds we never see.

Instead, a dozen 'top stories' of celebrity and selected 'news' outrage trending on popular hashtags are my world every morning. Here are the things in which we feed you, now please comment. Please be a part of the herd. Please put your blinders on and see what the machine allows you to see. Please follow along.

We are expected to be triggered.

A trigger is a response, a mechanical reaction like the trigger of a gun. You pull it, and it goes one way, and something violent happens as a result. A simple action, requiring a simple word or impetus, resulting in a predictable result. If you see this, think that way please - everyone else does. If you don't, you will be ridiculed and singled out. A trigger really only goes one way. See X, react Y.

We are not expected to think.

For in thinking, we can go any way. We can agree, disagree, agree to disagree, think something different, and respectfully discuss things and possibly come to new conclusions. Or change our opinions. Thinking does not conform to the simple world of machines, the binary codes that flip either on or off that computers 'think' in if you can actually call it thought. You see, computers cannot think, they can only react. For the worlds of social media to work they need to break down the complex interactions, or free thought, into simple reactions, for or against, like or dislike, share or ignore. When social media tries to create a "world" for us to see, it relies on programmed thought.

Programmed thought.

Think about that.



That emerald green and lush rain forest? Ever see a computer-generated movie, and the trees look fake for some reason? They are placed too uniformly, the underbrush just doesn't look right, and there are things missing which in real life would have been there. You know, because these are the things in which you have seen with your own eyes. That is like the 'world' created by social media. Fake. Programmed, Created for our consumption. Computer-generated and not real.

It looks, for all intents and purposes, like a discussion. Like a little society. Like a classroom where thought is openly discussed and new topics are as free to come and go as people are in the room. The topics are all selected for us. The discussion is all programmed to go one way, because the posts and 'friends' we see are the ones who think like us. The topics we see are the ones the machine chose for us to see that day, based on hidden computer codes that think for us, make the decisions for us on what the machine thinks we would like to see, and pre-selects and 'generates' the world we log into every morning.

It is as fake as that computer-generated forest.

There is no forest there, and there is no discussion there.

That forest was created by a computer putting trees where the computer thinks they should go.

That conversation was created by a computer populating topics in front of you because the computer thought these would appeal to you, either in the positive or the negative.

Two ways.

Forward or back.

Like a trigger.

But there is a larger problem. Our world shrinks. Imagine one of those majestic vistas in nature, perhaps one we have never seen before. Like the beauty of one of the world's dying coral reefs, or the view from atop a grand and boundless mountain. Something if which we saw it, would change our lives. An un-Photoshopped view of the world. It would open our eyes a little more, and make us see the world as a beautiful (and sometimes tarnished and imperfect) place. Computers don't know how to show us things that we may have no interest in, but may change our world once we have seen them.

It goes against logic.

We have no data on your 'likes' of waterfalls, and maybe you have never seen one, so no, we won't ever show them to you. There is no data. You don't get to see that. Sorry.

The computer decides for you, that you don't ever get to have this life-changing experience today.

Thank you for using the service!

Instead of experiencing the world, opening your mind, and enjoying the first moments of new experiences - we become trapped in the mundane. Celebrity news. The outrage of the day. Polls as breaking news. New product announcements. Sports scores. Things which have already happened. Cat pictures. Viral videos. Trending hashtags. All the things in which we were interested before, but none of the things which may possibly change our lives.

Triggers, not experiences.

When I was growing up, my mother would always warn me about spending too much time in front of the television or the computer. "Get out there and experience the world!" she would say. Hang out with other girls, do some after-school activities, get involved with sports, go on field trips, travel, see the world, and visit the library. Read a book. Get outside that tiny, constrained world of television or online things.

There is more to life than what you see on a tiny screen.

It is admittedly harder today because we can take our television and online worlds with us on our phones' tiny screens. Most people experience the Internet from the confines of social media, and more people experience the Internet via mobile devices than a traditional desktop. Augmented reality is a new thing, where the lines between social media and the real world blur.

I suppose this is how it is going to end, with that old-fashioned advice. There is more than life than the posts on your wall. The world isn't a place where complicated issues can be boiled down into hashtags and triggering words to react to, either for or against. One of the skills you will need to exist in this new world is one common in the old world, the ability to think for yourself outside of social media.

Why does this matter? Experiencing the world makes you a better writer. Having the ability to have experiences outside of your tiny world enriches your writing, your depth of thought, and the ability to put people, places and worlds which you may have never seen into words. You need to experience to be able to share. You need to go outside your comfort zone to experience the things which may change your life, and which may change how you think. We need to be able to connect with people, to see different views, and to understand other points of view. Otherwise, how would we be able to write for characters unlike ourselves?

It all matters.

Thinking matters.

Experiencing matters.

Being able to escape the programmed box computers sort us into every day matters.

Escape the machine for a moment, and allow yourself to be amazed by the equally horrifying and life-changing moments this world has to offer. There is the negative along with the positive to consider as well, and we need to be open to the world's hardships along with its wonders.

But more so, we need to open ourselves to having our lives changed by the things we may have never even considered to be a part of our carefully-controlled worlds.


Out there.

Outside the box.