The algorithm selects for…

What the algorithm selects for us to see on our feeds is what is most valuable, the thing we most want to see. For what we value is exactly what interests us.

We may have in mind a thing that interests us, or we might not. Either way, the algorithm does not fail to hold our attention. And it is getting better at it all the time.

It is getting better at putting into our feeds that which, out of all other things we scroll past, makes us stop and inquire further. The algorithm selects for us to see that which is most interesting.

Why something interests us, whether because it’s contentious or controversial, because it fascinates or inspires awe, makes us laugh or cry, matters not to an algorithm whose primary goal is to hold our attention.

The algorithm not only selects for our attention, as an audience, but selects also for what is most valuable among its content creators. The algorithm demands the finest artifacts to fill its museums and write its histories. An infinite gallery and chronicle of what is most interesting.

A god on its throne. A selector and discriminator. It’s no wonder why we treat it with such disdain and resentment. We cannot bear the weight of its judgement. The majority of us (who feel we are very important!) are told with every post into which we’ve poured our blood, sweat and souls, “What you are doing is not enough. It is not enough.”

And even when we have done something, said something, expressed something well enough, so that someone scrolling through their feed has to stop and look (even if what they’re looking at was not what they had in mind) it is not long before the algorithm demands the next sacrifice. Another and another and another.

I like best the posts which I did not expect. The ones that the creator, too, did not expect to go viral, and suddenly they’re thrust into the spotlight, unsure of what great insight they stumbled upon, but ready nevertheless to make the most of it.

Danse Macabre

The Danse Macabre was a trope in medieval times that showed up in a many different forms of art across Europe. It reminded the viewer of the universality of death. Skeletons were often depicted leading folks of all kinds to the dance, entreating them, reminding them that everyone dies, that death is inevitable.

It seems morose, but it’s hard to tell from the pictures that I’ve researched whether or not that was the intention the artists were trying to convey. The human subjects often don’t have definite expressions. They’re portrayed dispassionately, or sometimes confused, while the skeletons themselves are animated. The skeletons are having a good time, smiling, enjoying themselves. A grim joie de mourir.

The experience of social media often feels like this dance. The apocalyptic prophesying, and the fiddling while Rome burns, is enough to make one anxious. And the skeletons smiling all the while, inviting you to join. What else is there to do but dance along with them?

Danse Macabre

Emperor, your sword won’t help you out

Sceptre and crown are worthless here

I’ve taken you by the hand

For you must come to my dance

This is dope, and terrifying.

The center cannot hold.

The endless doom scroll.

I am called upon to bear witness

by the fetters of my phone,

to crowd out of existence

the solemnity of free time

and feel myself addicted.

It wants all of my attention.

It wants all of what I call mine.

Elsewhere I rinse the mind

in soporific bath waters of

infinite permutations of

entertainment. I sooth

the puling ego in the tepid

sink of hyper civilization.

And in my unallowed heart

I think, If only the rough beast

would turn and look at me!

It would not overthrow itself

like a madman his shadow

if it saw the beauty I see,

if it knew how beautiful

and unexpected I was.

It would fall in love with me

and I would change it

for the better. I would save

its soul with love, and the

worst of times would be done.

Robert Charboneau