Archived thread by robin on Rosegarden

Well, the twig I posted yesterday about the weird-sounding crow went a bit viral, by Rosegarden standards, and it got me thinking … 

On a social media platform in 2023, a message from a single human can fan out, unfiltered, and reach thousands of others in minutes.

This is a very strange super­power!! It can be fun, but there’s an edge of danger to it, too … a runaway train kind of feeling.

(That’s why I deleted the weird-sounding crow)

Very often, it’s not fun at all. A sentence, poorly chosen, calls down a storm of bile. An army of bots glamours a divisive meme into a million minds. A recording of another human’s suffering, even their death, appears, unasked for, on your screen.

What we hear from companies like T and F and Y is that moni­toring commu­ni­ca­tion at this scale, preventing that harm, is an unprece­dented technical challenge.

That’s correct. However … no one asked for commu­ni­ca­tion at this scale!

To be clear, it’s a challenge these companies designed for themselves; a challenge they enlarged through relentless, ingenious growth; a challenge they now invoke as if it’s some long­standing problem in fundamental physics.

Like heating a pot to a boil, then complaining the water’s too hot to drink 🤔

“What can we do about this scalding substance??” the operators of social media platforms exclaim … as the burners roar on their highest setting.

Here’s a simple solution:

Cool it down.

No reason­able human needs more than 10,000 other humans to read their words within twenty minutes of writing them.

If someone — a journalist, a celebrity, a president — insists they do need an audience that big, that fast, well … they can start an email newsletter.

There’s no imper­a­tive for any platform to provide this strange super­power to the president of the United States or anyone else.

“Start your own” is inter­preted as a killing curse, but really, it’s not. People do it all the time, with newsletters, websites, even apps. Sure, it’s difficult, but reaching a very large audience very quickly ought to be difficult.

(It should require an offering.)

I hear the objection: something something free flow of information … something something market­place of ideas.

But the people who are really serious about markets know better! Stock exchanges have “circuit breakers” that halt trading when prices move too fast. Sometimes the halt lasts a few minutes; other times, it’s the whole day.

Slowing things down lowers the stakes and reduces the potential for harm.

You know about feedback, right?

When a PA system screeches, that’s positive feedback. A voice flows into the microphone, out of the speaker, back into the microphone, out of the speaker again, and again, and again, picking up a bit of ampli­fi­ca­tion each time around, until it becomes an ear-splitting wail.

The master metaphor for social media might just be the PA screech.

There’s another kind of feedback, called negative feedback. A ther­mo­stat uses negative feedback; so does a human body. When your temperature rises, you sweat, which cools you down. When your temper­a­ture dips, you shiver, which warms you up.

Negative feedback is the feedback of stability and health.

These platforms could add negative feedback a hundred different ways.

Maybe … there could be an upper limit on the audience for any single message. 10,000 humans? 100,000? (THAT’S STILL A LOT)

Maybe … messages could diffuse without limit, but slowly. You want to reach a million people? Sure! It’s just going to take six months.

Maybe … the same algo­rithms that presently identify popular messages and promote them could have the opposite effect, like those circuit breakers in stock exchanges. They could be wired to the brakes instead of the gas.

I can see a future, very clearly, in which all social media platforms include mech­a­nisms like these, as a matter of common sense and also of law.

Here and now, I think Rosegarden demon­strates how many problems can be nipped in the bud (SORRY) just by slowing things down.

Besides, titania says the lack of real-time updates makes this site way easier for her to maintain. I think that’s telling. Infor­ma­tion doesn’t “want” to flow quickly. The engineers at T will tell you: it’s actually a pain in the ass!

I’m going to put these twigs in the queue now, but they won’t actually appear on Rosegarden until tomorrow. How pleasant.

(This is robin checking in, two hours later. I thought better of one particularly snide comment in this thread and came back to delete it before anything was even published. See? Slower.)

In the future, we’ll regard today’s networks run amok the way we regard the scenes you see in classic movies, clouded with cigarette smoke. Silicon Valley will be bashful about the wealth it amassed in this reckless period.

Like the old tobacco towns.

Social media platforms should run small, and slow, and cool to the touch.

That’s all I wanted to say.

I’ll go back to posting twigs of crows now.

This is an offering from Robin Sloan. I’m grateful to Vectors Market for their Nature Bold Line icons. You should read How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. HONY SOYT QUI MAL PENCE