Friday, August 20, 2021

Metrication and Demetrication

Yesterday evening I travelled across London for the opening of Ben Grosser's latest exhibition at the Arebyte Gallery, entitled Software for Less. 

Grosser's agenda is to disrupt the surveillance economy - enabling, encouraging and empowering users of social media to disengage from the glue traps laid for them by big data tech. The title of the exhibition is an answer to Mark Zuckerberg's compulsive repetition of the word "more", of which Grosser has compiled a 47 minute montage of video clips ("Order of Magnitude") prominently displayed at the entrance. Meanwhile Rachel O'Dwyer describes the paradox of Facebook: "an economy based on exponential growth ... an economy based on less".

In his book Crossing the Postmodern Divide (1992) Albert Borgmann extends the concept of hyperactivity to society as a whole, and defines it as "a state of mobilization where the richness and variety of social and cultural pursuits, and the natural pace of daily life, have been suspended to serve a higher, urgent cause" (p. 14). Psychiatrist Anna Lembke links this state with an excess of dopamine, and describes the smartphone as "the equivalent of the hypodermic needle for a wired generation".

In my post on YouTube Growth Hacking (November 2018), I mentioned Sophie Bishop's work on the anxiety, panic and self-optimization promoted by social media, and the precarity of those whose identity and self-worth depends on the number of likes and follows from other users, as measured by the platform algorithms.

On display at the Software for Less exhibition are a series of disengagement tools, including a demetrication filter (to hide those anxiety-provoking numbers counting followers and likes) and a random emotion generator (mixing up reactions of anger, sadness and joy to confuse the big tech algorithms). There are also platforms that are designed for constraint rather than overabundance, limiting the total number of posts to force the user to think whether each post is really necessary.

Perhaps for some users, these tools will provide a valuable remedy for addiction, hyperactivity and other mental and social issues. But perhaps for many other users, the point is not to actually use these tools, but simply to become more aware of the design choices that the big platforms have made, and the ability of users to resist.

 

In other news ...

August 2021. The Chinese authorities have just announced a demetrication programme, which they say is necessary to tackle online bullying and protect children. Online lists ranking celebrities by popularity are banned, and cultural products (songs, films, TV shows, etc.) should be primarily ranked by quality rather than the number of likes and comments. I mentioned Stan Culture (fan quan) in my post on A Cybernetics View of Data-Driven (August 2020)




Tim Adams, How artist Ben Grosser is cutting Mark Zuckerberg down to size (Guardian/Observer, 15 August 2021)

Helen Davidson, China bans celebrity rankings in bid to rectify chaos in the fan community (The Guardian, 27 August 2021)

Rebecca Edwards, Leave Me Alone (Arebyte Gallery, 2021)

Ben Grosser, Order of Magnitude (2019), Software for Less (28 July 2021)

Anna Lembke, Digital Addictions Are Drowning Us in Dopamine (WSJ, 13 August 2021). See also Jamie Waters, Constant craving: how digital media turned us all into dopamine addicts (Guardian/Observer 22 August 2021)

Vincent Ni, China bans reality talent shows to curb behaviours of idol fandoms (Guardian, 2 September 2021)

Rachel O'Dwyer, More or Less (Arebyte Gallery, 2021)

Related posts: Tablets and Hyperactivity (February 2013), YouTube Growth Hacking (November 2018), A Cybernetics View of Data-Driven (August 2020)

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