A Polarizing Diet of Engagement and Behaviorism

Since then, other employees have corroborated these findings. A former Facebook AI researcher who joined in 2018 says he and his team conducted “study after study” confirming the same basic idea: models that maximize engagement increase polarization. They could easily track how strongly users agreed or disagreed on different issues, what content they liked to engage with, and how their stances changed as a result. Regardless of the issue, the models learned to feed users increasingly extreme viewpoints. “Over time they measurably become more polarized,” he says.

Source: He got Facebook hooked on AI. Now he can’t fix its misinformation addiction | MIT Technology Review

The pigeon. The object of technological experimentation, manipulation, and control, weaponized.

Source: The Pigeons of Ed-Tech

The diet of engagement and behaviorism served by Facebook and big tech make for primitive moral development in both server and served.

Nolan’s inability to think about others, combined with his obvious self-interest certainly exemplify a primitive level of moral development… but, if the adults in his life subscribe to an equally primitive kind of character development, how can we come to expect anything more? How can we expect kids like Nolan to progress to a higher level of ethical behavior when our dependence on rewards and punishment is precisely what condemns kids to such primitive self-interest.

Source: for the love of learning: Primitive Moral Development: PBIS

Where were we radicalized? In a Skinner Box. (Skinner preferred the term “Operant Conditioning Chamber”.)

The beauty of the Internet is that by combining big data, behavioral targeting, wearable and mobile devices, and GPS, application developers can design more effective operant conditioning environments and keep us in virtual Skinner boxes as long as we have a smart phone in our pockets.

Source: Skinner Marketing: We’re the Rats, and Facebook Likes Are the Reward – The Atlantic

I would argue, in total seriousness, that one of the places that Skinnerism thrives today is in computing technologies, particularly in “social” technologies. This, despite the field’s insistence that its development is a result, in part, of the cognitive turn that supposedly displaced behaviorism.

Source: B. F. Skinner: The Most Important Theorist of the 21st Century

We’ve constructed vast engines of confirmation bias that bubble many of us in bespoke Skinner box universes of misinformation, though we dress it all in cognitive science and AI.

These are “technologies of behavior” that we can trace back to Skinner – perhaps not directly, but certainly indirectly due to Skinner’s continual engagement with the popular press. His fame and his notoriety. Behavioral management – and specifically through operant conditioning – remains a staple of child rearing and pet training. It is at the core of one of the most popular ed-tech apps currently on the market, ClassDojo. Behaviorism also underscores the idea that how we behaveand data about how we behave when we click can give programmers insight into how to alter their software and into what we’re thinking.

If we look more broadly – and Skinner surely did – these sorts of technologies of behavior don’t simply work to train and condition individuals; many technologies of behavior are part of a broader attempt to reshape society. “For your own good,” the engineers try to reassure us. “For the good of the world.”

Source: B. F. Skinner: The Most Important Theorist of the 21st Century

So frustrating, especially when the Internet can be used to the opposite effect.

Chance favors the connected mind. Opportunities for serendipity increase with bigger, more diverse networks. Build personal learning networks. Expose yourself to new perspectives. Listen in solidarity. Be in the space. When we seek perspectives different than our own, share hunches, and connect ideas, we participate in created serendipity.

Source: Created Serendipity: Chance Favors the Connected Mind – Ryan Boren

We can’t make ethical tech if we’re in the behaviorism business.

(It’s worth teasing out a little – but probably not in this talk, since I’ve rambled on so long already – the difference, if any, between “persuasion” and “operant conditioning” and how they imagine to leave space for freedom and dignity. Rhetorically and practically.)

Source: B. F. Skinner: The Most Important Theorist of the 21st Century

It’s a hyper-evolutionary process that rewards the most extractive, most addictive, most viral strain from the cohort. The key measurement is ENGAGEMENT.

More engagement. More rage, more fake news, all resulting in more hours spent, more eyeballs fixated, more clicks and taps made.

Source: Exponential growth devours and corrupts – Signal v. Noise

See also:

An Option for No Stats

I’m tired of stats. I’m tired of seeing my writing as piles of graphs and numbers. This is a screenshot of the WordPress.com backend for my RV+neurodiversity lifestyle blog, wanderingsmial.blog.

Screenshot of the WordPress.com posts list showing my latest posts. The number of views listed for each post is low, 2s and 3s.
Screenshot of the WordPress.com posts list showing my latest posts. The number of views listed for each post is low, 2s and 3s.

 

The number of views is shown for each post. I rarely mention Wandering Smial publicly. It’s just for me. The numbers shown are tiny and likely always will be.

When I visit the backend, the default screen is stats.

Screenshot of the WordPress.com stats screen for wanderinsmial.blog showing a lot of nothing.
Screenshot of the WordPress.com stats screen for wanderinsmial.blog showing a lot of nothing.

 

Maybe someday I’ll share the site more broadly, but, for now, the audience is me. I don’t want to see stats anywhere in the interface of this blog. I want an option to ignore all stats, to un-surface and de-prioritize them, to opt out of gaming myself.

Twitter followers, podcast download stats, blog post views, the scale, whatever. Life isn’t a video game. Happiness doesn’t have a numerical value attached to it.

Source: Hello, 2018

I love data and I hate stats. Not stats in abstract — statistics are great — but the kind of stats that seem to accompany any web activity. Number of followers, number of readers, number of viewers, etc. I hate them in the way that an addict hates that which she loves the most. My pulse quickens as I refresh the page to see if one more person clicked the link. As my eyes water and hours pass, I have to tear myself away from the numbers, the obsessive calculating that I do, creating averages and other statistical equations for no good reason. I gift my math-craving brain with a different addiction, turning to various games — these days, Yushino — to just get a quick hit of addition. And then I grumble, grumble at the increasing presence of stats to quantify and measure everything that I do.

Source: My name is danah and I’m a stats addict. – The Message – Medium

When using WordPress, it’s easy to get the basic numbers of interest: how many visitors, from which part of the world etc. The next level is Google Analytics… what a plethora of settings and numbers! I stared at them all the time after a new post went up, it was exhausting. I thought about which posts get more visitors, what times are better to publish etc. It’s not directly the problem why I didn’t write more regularly, but it’s a reason why I don’t care about any stats anymore: it’s a distraction. There are no Google Analytics or anything enabled, and if I want analytics back at some point it will be something else.

Source: Why I Failed at Blogging – Think Lagom

I still haven’t looked at stats for Timetable. And I’ve resisted adding follower counts and page view stats to Micro.blog for the same reason. If all that drives you is the number of likes on a tweet, or subscribers to your podcast, it’s easy to get discouraged when the numbers don’t pan out. Or worse, overthink your writing when you know a bunch of people are paying attention.

Everyone has something to say. Write because you love it, or to become a better writer, or to develop an idea. The stats should be an afterthought.

Source: Overthinking stats | Manton Reece

So, getting a post read by “everyone” is harder than ever but reaching hundreds or low thousands of audience has never been easier.

By chasing audience we lose the ability to be ourselves. By writing for everyone we write for no one.

When you write for someone else’s publication your writing becomes disparate and UN-networked. By chasing scale and pageviews you lose identity and the ability to create meaningful, memorable connections within the network.

Source: Small b blogging

When I visit my blog admin, I want the default screen to be my writing, without numbers. Focus reflection on the thoughts and ideas themselves rather than their numerical impressions as mass content.

Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”.

And remember that you are your own audience! Small b blogging is writing things that you link back to and reference time and time again. Ideas that can evolve and grow as your thinking and audience grows.

As Venkatesh says in the calculus of grit – release work often, reference your own thinking & rework the same ideas again and again. That’s the small b blogging model.

Source: Small b blogging

For the vast majority of us practicing educator types, blogging and participating in social spaces is about reflection, plain and simple.  Every time that you sit down behind the keyboard for any reason — whether that’s to join in a Twitterchat, to read bits that appear in your social streams, or to create a new bit on your own blog, you are an active learner.

Articulation of ideas — whether it comes in the short form of a Tweet or the long form of a blog post — requires you to think carefully about what you THINK you know.  Finding the right words to express your core notions about teaching and learning forces you to wrestle with what you actually believe.

Every time we make the argument that audience matters, we forget that reflection matters more.  Our goal shouldn’t be to #becomepopular.  It should be to #becomebetter.  Blogging and sharing in social spaces can help us to do that whether anyone is listening or not.

Source: Audience Doesn’t Matter. | THE TEMPERED RADICAL

CC: @wordpressdotcom, where we’ve talked about changing the default screen from stats to the posts list for years. We find ourselves in an age of disinformation where fatigue with exponential growth and the stats driven disethics of tech and ed-tech is rapidly settling in; perhaps, the time is now.